Interaction of color and geometric cues in depth perception: When does red mean "near"?

Psychological Research 69:30-40 (2004)
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Luminance and color are strong and self-sufficient cues to pictorial depth in visual scenes and images. The present study investigates the conditions Under which luminance or color either strengthens or overrides geometric depth cues. We investigated how luminance contrasts associated with color contrast interact with relative height in the visual field, partial occlusion, and interposition in determining the probability that a given figure is perceived as ‘‘nearer’’ than another. Latencies of ‘‘near’’ responses were analyzed to test for effects of attentional selection. Figures in a pair were supported by luminance contrast or isoluminant color contrast and combined with one of the three geometric cues. The results of Experiment 1 show that luminance contrasts associated with hue, when it does not interact with other hues, produces the same effects as achromatic luminance contrasts: The probability of‘‘near’’ increases with luminance contrast while the latencies for ‘‘near’’ responses decrease. Partial occlusion is found to be a strong enough pictorial cue to support a weaker red luminance contrast. Interposition cues lose out against cues of spatial position and partial occlusion. The results of Experiment 2, with isoluminant displays of varying color contrast, reveal that red color contrast on a light background supported by any of the three geometric cues wins over green or white supported by any of the three geometric cues. On a dark background, red color contrast supported by the interposition cue loses out against green or white color contrast supported by partial occlusion. These findings reveal that color is not an independent depth cue, but is strongly influenced by luminance contrast and stimulus geometry. Systematically shorter response latencies for stronger ‘‘near’’ percepts demonstrate that selective visual attention reliably detects the most likely depth cue combination in a given configuration
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