PMID: 15693677Feb 8, 2005

Why cast shadows are expendable: insensitivity of human observers and the inherent ambiguity of cast shadows in pictorial art

Jayme Jacobson, Steffen Werner


The kinds of visual cues artists choose to use or not use in their work can offer insight into perceptual processes. On the basis of the observed paucity of the use of cast shadow in pictorial art, we hypothesized that cast shadows might be relatively expendable as pictorial cues. In this study, we investigated two potential reasons for this expendability: first, viewers might be insensitive to much of the information that cast shadows provide; and, second, ambiguities about what is shadow and what is pigment can often be resolved only through motion-something that static media are ill-equipped to deal with. In experiment 1, we used a visual-search paradigm in which viewers had to determine if there were odd cast shadows in sets of 4, 8, 16, and 32 objects. In experiment 2, viewers had to discriminate between shadow/pigment ambiguities in both still and moving images. Our results demonstrate that viewers are neither particularly sensitive to static cast-shadow incongruities, nor are they able to disambiguate cast shadow from pigment without continuous motion information. Taken together, these results may help explain why cast shadows are relatively rare in static pictorial work.


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