Structural inference affects depth perception in the context of potential occlusion

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 22 (NIPS 2009)

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Ian Stevenson, Konrad Koerding


In many domains, humans appear to combine perceptual cues in a near-optimal, probabilistic fashion: two noisy pieces of information tend to be combined linearly with weights proportional to the precision of each cue. Here we present a case where structural information plays an important role. The presence of a background cue gives rise to the possibility of occlusion, and places a soft constraint on the location of a target – in effect propelling it forward. We present an ideal observer model of depth estimation for this situation where structural or ordinal information is important and then fit the model to human data from a stereo-matching task. To test whether subjects are truly using ordinal cues in a probabilistic manner we then vary the uncertainty of the task. We find that the model accurately predicts shifts in subject’s behavior. Our results indicate that the nervous system estimates depth ordering in a probabilistic fashion and estimates the structure of the visual scene during depth perception.