Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Perceptual Processing of Natural Scenes at Rapid Rates: Effects of Complexity, Content, and Emotional Arousal

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Perceptual Processing of Natural Scenes at Rapid Rates: Effects of Complexity, Content, and Emotional Arousal

Article excerpt

Published online: 19 June 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract During rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP), the perceptual system is confronted with a rapidly changing array of sensory information demanding resolution. At rapid rates of presentation, previous studies have found an early (e.g., 150--280 ms) negativity over occipital sensors that is enhanced when emotional, as compared with neutral, pic- tures are viewed, suggesting facilitated perception. In the present study, we explored how picture composition and the presence of people in the image affect perceptual pro- cessing of pictures of natural scenes. Using RSVP, pictures that differed in perceptual composition (figure--ground or scenes), content (presence of people or not), and emotional content (emotionally arousing or neutral) were presented in a continuous stream for 330 ms each with no intertrial interval. In both subject and picture analyses, all three variables affected the amplitude of occipital negativity, with the greatest enhancement for figure--ground compositions (as compared with scenes), irrespective of content and emotion- al arousal, supporting an interpretation that ease of percep- tual processing is associated with enhanced occipital nega- tivity. Viewing emotional pictures prompted enhanced neg- ativity only for pictures that depicted people, suggesting that specific features of emotionally arousing images are associ- ated with facilitated perceptual processing, rather than all emotional content.

Keywords Emotion . Rapid serial picture presentation (RSVP) . Event-related potentials . Early negativity . Picture complexity

During rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) of natural scenes, perceptual processing is faced with a veritable on- slaught of sensory information that demands rapid resolu- tion. Nonetheless, a number of behavioral studies have de- termined that rapidly presented images are indeed perceived but quickly forgotten (Potter, 1975; Potter, Staub, Rado, & O'Connor, 2002). When perceptual processing is measured using electrophysiology during RSVP, previous studies have found that emotional, as compared with neutral, scenes prompt a larger occipito-temporal negativity starting around 150 ms after picture onset (e.g., Junghöfer, Bradley, Elbert, & Lang, 2001; Peyk, Schupp, Elbert, & Junghöfer, 2008; Schupp, Junghöfer, Weike, & Hamm, 2003), suggesting that this may be a neural signature of enhanced perceptual pro- cessing. Consistent with this, emotional pictures presented during RSVP are also recognized better on a later recognition test than are neutral pictures (Versace, Bradley, & Lang, 2010). Visual images of natural scenes, however, also vary widely in low-level perceptual properties that might also affect the ease of perceptual processing, especially when presented at rapid speeds. Among these are perceptual com- plexity and the presence of people. Therefore, in the present study, we assessed the extent to which complexity, content, and emotional arousal of natural scenes affected perceptual processing as measured using dense array EEG.

According to Gestalt psychologists, one of the major principles in perceptual organization is segmentation of an image into figure and ground (Palmer, 1999). When the high perceptual loads associated with the rapidly changing visual scenes in RSVP are processed, it is reasonable that images of lower perceptual complexity can by segregated more easily into coherent patterns, with these relatively simpler figure-- ground pictures seeming to pop-out of the fleeting array. Thus, we presented simple figure--ground compositions, as well as more complex scenes, using RSVP and measured brain potentials, with the expectation that enhanced occipital negativity might be found for simple figure--ground scenes if this neural event indexes enhanced perceptual processing. Moreover, we also presented emotional and neutral pictures that were either figure--ground compositions or more com- plex scenes, allowing us to determine the contribution of both factors to ease of perceptual processing, as indexed by occipital negativity. …

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