Ambiguity and the 'mental eye' in pictorial relief

Jan J. Koenderink*, Andrea J. van Doorn, Astrid M L Kappers, James T. Todd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Photographs of scenes do not determine scenes in the sense that infinitely many different scenes could have given rise to any given photograph. In psychophysical experiments, observers have (at least partially) to resolve these ambiguities. The ambiguities also allow them to vary their response within the space of 'veridical' responses. Such variations may well be called 'the beholder's share' since they do not depend causally on the available depth cues. We determined the pictorial relief for four observers, four stimuli, and four different tasks. In all cases we addressed issues of reliability (scatter on repeated trials) and consistency (how well the data can be explained via a smooth surface, any surface). All data were converted to depth maps which allows us to compare the relief from the different operationalisations. As expected, pictorial relief can differ greatly either between observers (same stimulus, same task) or between operationalisations (same observer, same stimulus). However, when we factor out the essential ambiguity, these differences almost completely vanish and excellent agreement over tasks and observers pertains. Thus, observers often resolve the ambiguity in idiosyncratic ways, but mutually agree - even over tasks - in so far as their responses are causally dependent on the depth cues. A change of task often induces a change in 'mental perspective'. In such cases, the observers switch the 'beholder's share', which resolves the essential ambiguity through a change in viewpoint of their 'mental eye'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-448
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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