The Elephant in the Room: Inconsistency in Scene Viewing and Representation

Sara Spotorno, Benjamin W. Tatler* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


We examined the extent to which semantic informativeness, consistency with expectations and perceptual salience contribute to object prioritisation in scene viewing and representation. In scene viewing (Experiments 1-2), semantic guidance overshadowed perceptual guidance in determining fixation order, with the greatest prioritisation for objects that were diagnostic of the scene’s depicted event. Perceptual properties affected selection of consistent objects (regardless of their informativeness) but not of inconsistent objects. Semantic and perceptual properties also interacted in influencing foveal inspection, as inconsistent objects were fixated longer than low but not high salience diagnostic objects. While not studied in direct competition with each other (each studied in competition with diagnostic objects), we found that inconsistent objects were fixated earlier and for longer than consistent but marginally informative objects. In change detection (Experiment 3), perceptual guidance overshadowed semantic guidance, promoting detection of highly salient changes. A residual advantage for diagnosticity over inconsistency emerged only when selection prioritisation could not be based on low-level features. Overall these findings show that semantic inconsistency is not prioritised within a scene when competing with other relevant information that is essential to scene understanding and respects observers’ expectations. Moreover, they reveal that the relative dominance of semantic or perceptual properties during selection depends on ongoing task requirements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1717-1743
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

We are very grateful to Andrew McKechnie for conducting a pilot study that informed the design and analysis of the data presented in Experiment 3 of the present study. For assistance with data collection for Experiments 1 and 2 we thank Ilaria Dal Lago, Anais Leroy, Teodor Nikolov, Hannah Nsiah-Amoako, Hanane Ramzaoui, Lara Wilson and Radia Zaghari. We also thank Monica Castelhano, Carrick Williams and an anonymous reviewer for thorough and helpful suggestions to improve this manuscript.


  • Semantic Consistency
  • Perceptual Salience
  • Scene Viewing
  • Change Detection
  • Eye Movements


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