Time to detect the difference between two images presented side by side.
The time to locate a difference between two artificial images presented side by side on a CRT screen was studied as a function of their complexity. The images were square lattices of black or white squares or quadrangles, in some cases delineated by a blue grid. Each pair differed at a single position, chosen at random. For images of size N x N, the median reaction time varied as cN2, from N = 3-15, with c being around 50 ms in the absence of grid (i.e., when the quadrangles were associated into continuous shapes). For N < or = 9, when the lattice was made irregular, performance did not deteriorate, up to a rather high level of irregularity. Furthermore, the presence of uncorrelated distortions in the left and right images did not affect performance for N < or = 6. In the presence of a grid, the reaction times were on average higher by 20%. The results taken together indicate that the detection of differences does not proceed on a point-by-point basis and must be mediated by some abstract shape analysis, in agreement with current views on short-term visual memory (e.g., Phillips, W.A., On the distinction between sensory storage and short-term visual memory, Percept. Psychophys., 16 (1974) 283-290 ). In complementary experiments, the subjects had to judge whether two images presented side by side were the same or different, with N varying from 1 to 5. For N < 3, the same and the different responses were similar in all their statistical aspects. For N > or = 4, the "same" responses took a significantly larger time than the "different" responses and were accompanied by a significant increase in errors. The qualitative change from N = 3 to N = 4 is interpreted as a shift from a "single inspection" analysis to an obligatory scanning procedure. On the whole, we suggest that visual information in our simultaneous comparison task is extracted by chunks of about 12 +/- 3 bits, and that the visual processing and matching tasks take about 50 ms per couple of quadrangles. In Section 4, we compare these values to the values obtained through other experimental paradigms.
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