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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Categories affect color perception of only some simultaneously present objects


There is broad empirical evidence suggesting that higher-level cognitive processes, such as language, categorization, and emotion, shape human visual perception. For example, categories that we acquire throughout lifetime have been found to alter our perceptual discriminations and distort perceptual processing. Here, we study categorical effects on perception by adapting the perceptual matching task to minimize the potential non-perceptual influences on the results. We found that the learned category-color associations bias human color matching judgments away from their category ideal on a color continuum. This effect, however, unequally biased two objects (probe and manipulator) that were simultaneously present on the screen, thus demonstrating a more nuanced picture of top-down influences on perception than has been assumed both by the theories of categorical perception and the El Greco methodological fallacy. We suggest that only the concurrent memory for visually present objects is subject to a contrast-from-caricature distortion due to category-association learning.

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