The outlier paradox: The role of iterative ensemble coding in discounting outliers

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 1 (forthcoming)
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Ensemble perception—the encoding of objects by their group properties—is known to be resistant to outlier noise. However, this resistance is somewhat paradoxical: how can the visual system determine which stimuli are outliers without already having derived statistical properties of the ensemble? A simple solution would be that ensemble perception is not a simple, one-step process; instead, outliers are detected through iterative computations that identify items with high deviance from the mean and reduce their weight in the representation over time. Here we tested this hypothesis. In Experiment 1, we found evidence that outliers are discounted from mean orientation judgments, extending previous results from ensemble face perception. In Experiment 2, we tested the timing of outlier rejection by having participants perform speeded judgments of sets with or without outliers. We observed significant increases in reaction time (RT) when outliers were present, but a decrease compared to no-outlier sets of matched range suggesting that range alone did not drive RTs. In Experiment 3 we tested the timing by which outlier noise reduces over time. We presented sets for variable exposure durations and found that noise decreases linearly over time. Altogether these results suggest that ensemble representations are optimized through iterative computations aimed at reducing noise. The finding that ensemble perception is an iterative process provides a useful framework for understanding contextual effects on ensemble perception.

Author Profiles

Michael Epstein
University of San Diego
Jake Quilty-Dunn
Rutgers - New Brunswick
Eric Mandelbaum
CUNY Graduate Center


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