Introduction

Throughout the waking day we are bombarded with information from the visual environment. Mostly we make sense of that information, which usually involves identifying or recognising the objects that surround us. Object recognition typically occurs so effortlessly that it is hard to believe it is actually a rather complex achievement.

The complexities of object recognition can be grasped by discussing the processes involved. First, there are usually numerous different overlapping objects in the visual environment, and we must somehow decide where one object ends and the next starts. This is difficult, as can be seen if we consider the visual environment of the first author as he is word-processing these words. There are well over 100 objects visible in the room in front of him and in the garden outside. Over 90% of these objects overlap, and are overlapped by, other objects.

Second, objects can be recognised accurately over a wide range of viewing distances and orientations. For example, there is a small table directly in front of the first author. He is confident that the table is round, although its retinal image is elliptical. The term "constancy" refers to the fact that the apparent size and shape of an object do not change despite large variations in the size and shape of the retinal image.

Third, we recognise that an object is, say, a chair without any apparent difficulty. Chairs vary enormously in their visual properties (e.g., colour, size, shape), and it is not immediately obvious how we manage to allocate such diverse visual stimuli to the same category. The discussion of the representation of concepts (e.g., Rosch et al., 1976) in Chapter 10 is relevant here.

Key processes involved in object recognition

• Overlapping: deciding where one object ends and another begins

• Accurate recognition of objects over varying distances and orientations

• Allocating diverse visual stimuli to the same category of objects

In spite of the complexities of object recognition, we can generally go beyond simply identifying objects in the visual environment. For example, we can normally describe what an object would look like if viewed from a different angle, and we know its uses and functions.

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