OPEN Journal of vision | 5 Jun 2013
EH Cohen and Q Zaidi
Symmetry is a biologically relevant, mathematically involving, and aesthetically compelling visual phenomenon. Mirror symmetry detection is considered particularly rapid and efficient, based on experiments with random noise. Symmetry detection in natural settings, however, is often accomplished against structured backgrounds. To measure salience of symmetry in diverse contexts, we assembled mirror symmetric patterns from 101 natural textures. Temporal thresholds for detecting the symmetry axis ranged from 28 to 568 ms indicating a wide range of salience (1/Threshold). We built a model for estimating symmetry-energy by connecting pairs of mirror-symmetric filters that simulated cortical receptive fields. The model easily identified the axis of symmetry for all patterns. However, symmetry-energy quantified at this axis correlated weakly with salience. To examine context effects on symmetry detection, we used the same model to estimate approximate symmetry resulting from the underlying texture throughout the image. Magnitudes of approximate symmetry at flanking and orthogonal axes showed strong negative correlations with salience, revealing context interference with symmetry detection. A regression model that included the context-based measures explained the salience results, and revealed why perceptual symmetry can differ from mathematical characterizations. Using natural patterns thus produces new insights into symmetry perception and its possible neural circuits.
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