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What an image depicts depends on what an image means

Cognitive Psychology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0010-0285(92)90006-n


Abstract Previous research has shown that subjects visually imaging the classical ambiguous figures have great difficulty in reconstruing these images. To explain this finding, we propose that subjects' construal of their image strongly influences what is depicted in the image, leading to the inclusion of some aspects of an imaged figure and the exclusion of others. Thus, images of (supposedly) ambiguous figures may literally omit information necessary for the reconstrual. To test this claim, we asked subjects to form an image of the duck/rabbit figure, and then to compare their image to drawings that departed slightly from the original figure. We hypothesized that subjects would have a clear image of the side of the figure they understood as the “face” (the left side if the image is understood as a duck, the right side for the rabbit). Conversely, subjects would have only a vague image of the “back” of the head. Consequently, in comparing their image to test stimuli, subjects should be able to detect variations in the contour of the “face,” but not in the contour of the “back” of the animal's head. These predictions were confirmed, strongly suggesting that the construal of an image does dictate what is depicted within the image.

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