A recent study has revealed that in analyzing a scene, we make the easiest judgments first.
Psychology researchers, who have hypothesized that we classify scenery by following some order of cognitive priorities, may have been overlooking something simpler.
Brown University’s new evidence suggests that the fastest categorizations our brains make are simply the ones where the necessary distinction is easiest.
There are many ways we parse scenery. In many previous experiments, researchers have found that some levels of categorization seem special in that they occur earlier than others, leading to a hypothesis that the brain has a prescribed set of priorities.
One example of this, the “superordinate advantage,” holds that people will first sort out the global or “superordinate” character of a scene before categorizing basic details. Judging “indoor vs. outdoor,” the hypothesis goes, not only happens before “kitchen vs. bathroom,” but must happen first.
The results suggest that the superordinate advantage is not necessarily part of a pre-ordained hierarchy in the brain. The superordinate categorization may just typically be easier.
Senior author Thomas Serre said that it’s certainly still possible that a hybrid of the two hypotheses exists. There may be some hierarchy or priorities, but discriminability is such a powerful factor it can actually overwhelm them. Further experiments are underway.
The study is published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.