Transformation priming helps to disambiguate sudden changes of sensory inputs

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Vision Research, Volume 116, p.36–44 (2015)



Attention, Perceptual inference, Priming, Prior knowledge, Shape-from-shading, Streaming-bouncing, structure-from-motion, Transformations, Visual memory, Visual Perception


Retinal input is riddled with abrupt transients due to self-motion, changes in illumination, object-motion, etc. Our visual system must correctly interpret each of these changes to keep visual perception consistent and sensitive. This poses an enormous challenge, as many transients are highly ambiguous in that they are consistent with many alternative physical transformations. Here we investigated inter-trial effects in three situations with sudden and ambiguous transients, each presenting two alternative appearances (rotation-reversing structure-from-motion, polarity-reversing shape-from-shading, and streaming-bouncing object collisions). In every situation, we observed priming of transformations as the outcome perceived in earlier trials tended to repeat in subsequent trials and this repetition was contingent on perceptual experience. The observed priming was specific to transformations and did not originate in priming of perceptual states preceding a transient. Moreover, transformation priming was independent of attention and specific to low level stimulus attributes. In summary, we show how "transformation priors"; and experience-driven updating of such priors helps to disambiguate sudden changes of sensory inputs. We discuss how dynamic transformation priors can be instantiated as "transition energies" in an "energy landscape" model of the visual perception.