Introduction

This chapter and the following two deal with visual perception. We can perhaps best begin with a consideration of the concept of "perception". Roth (1986, p. 81) provided a representative definition: "The term perception refers to the means by which information acquired via the sense organs is transformed into experiences of objects, events, sounds, tastes, etc."

Visual perception seems so simple and effortless that we tend to take it for granted. In fact, it is very complex, and several processes are involved in transforming and interpreting sensory information. Some of the complexities of visual perception only became clear when workers in artificial intelligence tried to program computers to "perceive" the environment. Even when the environment was artificially simplified (e.g., consisting only of white solids) and the task was apparently easy (e.g., deciding how many objects there are), computers required very complicated programming to succeed. It is still the case that no computers can match more than a fraction of the skills of visual perception possessed by nearly every adult human.

The experimental, computational, neuropsychological, and neuroscience approaches have all been influential in increasing our understanding of visual perception. In addition, neuroscience studies have played a larger role in vision research than in most other areas of cognitive psychology. A substantial proportion of the human cortex is devoted to visual processing, and so this emphasis on the neuroscientific approach is justified.

This chapter is concerned with some of the basic processes involved in visual perception. Higher-level processes are considered in Chapter 4, with major theoretical orientations and motion perception being dealt with in Chapter 3.

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