Nameability affects subjective and objective measures of visual similarity

AbstractDo people perceive shapes to be similar based purely on their physical features? Or is visual similarity influenced by top-down knowledge? In the present studies, we demonstrate that top-down information – in the form of verbal labels that people associate with visual stimuli – predicts visual similarity as measured using subjective (Experiment 1) and objective (Experiment 2) tasks. In Experiment 1, shapes that were previously calibrated to be (putatively) perceptually equidistant were more likely to be grouped together if they shared a name. In Experiment 2, more nameable shapes were easier for participants to discriminate from other images, again controlling for their perceptual distance. We discuss what these results mean for constructing visual stimuli spaces that are perceptually uniform and discuss theoretical implications of the fact that perceptual similarity is sensitive to top-down information such as the ease with which an object can be named.

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