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Affordances Provide a Fundamental Categorization Principle for Visual Scenes

by   Michelle R. Greene, et al.

How do we know that a kitchen is a kitchen by looking? Relatively little is known about how we conceptualize and categorize different visual environments. Traditional models of visual perception posit that scene categorization is achieved through the recognition of a scene's objects, yet these models cannot account for the mounting evidence that human observers are relatively insensitive to the local details in an image. Psychologists have long theorized that the affordances, or actionable possibilities of a stimulus are pivotal to its perception. To what extent are scene categories created from similar affordances? Using a large-scale experiment using hundreds of scene categories, we show that the activities afforded by a visual scene provide a fundamental categorization principle. Affordance-based similarity explained the majority of the structure in the human scene categorization patterns, outperforming alternative similarities based on objects or visual features. We all models were combined, affordances provided the majority of the predictive power in the combined model, and nearly half of the total explained variance is captured only by affordances. These results challenge many existing models of high-level visual perception, and provide immediately testable hypotheses for the functional organization of the human perceptual system.


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