A Bayesian Framework for Tilt Perception and Confidence

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 18 (NIPS 2005)

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Odelia Schwartz, Peter Dayan, Terrence J. Sejnowski


The misjudgement of tilt in images lies at the heart of entertaining visual illusions and rigorous perceptual psychophysics. A wealth of findings has attracted many mechanistic models, but few clear computational principles. We adopt a Bayesian approach to perceptual tilt estimation, showing how a smoothness prior offers a powerful way of addressing much confusing data. In particular, we faithfully model recent results showing that confidence in estimation can be systematically affected by the same aspects of images that affect bias. Confidence is central to Bayesian modeling approaches, and is applicable in many other perceptual domains. Perceptual anomalies and illusions, such as the misjudgements of motion and tilt evident in so many psychophysical experiments, have intrigued researchers for decades.13 A Bayesian view48 has been particularly influential in models of motion processing, treating such anomalies as the normative product of prior information (often statistically codifying Gestalt laws) with likelihood information from the actual scenes presented. Here, we expand the range of statistically normative accounts to tilt estimation, for which there are classes of results (on estimation confidence) that are so far not available for motion. The tilt illusion arises when the perceived tilt of a center target is misjudged (ie bias) in the presence of flankers. Another phenomenon, called Crowding, refers to a loss in the confidence (ie sensitivity) of perceived target tilt in the presence of flankers. Attempts have been made to formalize these phenomena quantitatively. Crowding has been modeled as compulsory feature pooling (ie averaging of orientations), ignoring spatial positions.9, 10 The tilt illusion has been explained by lateral interactions11, 12 in populations of orientationtuned units; and by calibration.13 However, most models of this form cannot explain a number of crucial aspects of the data. First, the geometry of the positional arrangement of the stimuli affects attraction versus repulsion in bias, as emphasized by Kapadia et al14 (figure 1A), and others.15, 16 Second, Solomon et al. recently measured bias and sensitivity simultaneously.11 The rich and surprising range of sensitivities, far from flat as a function of flanker angles (figure 1B), are outside the reach of standard models. Moreover, current explanations do not offer a computational account of tilt perception as the outcome of a normative inference process. Here, we demonstrate that a Bayesian framework for orientation estimation, with a prior favoring smoothness, can naturally explain a range of seemingly puzzling tilt data. We explicitly consider both the geometry of the stimuli, and the issue of confidence in the esti-

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