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Vision Using Routines: A Functional Account of Vision

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This paper presents the case for a functional account of vision. A variety of studies have consistently revealed "change blindness" or insensitivity to changes in the visual scene during an eye movement. These studies indicate that only a small part of the information in the scene is represented in the brain from moment to moment. It is still unclear, however, exactly what is included in visual representations. This paper reviews experiments using an extended visuo-motor task, showing that display changes affect performance differently depending on the observer's place in the task. These effects are revealed by increases in fixation duration following a change. Different task-dependent increases suggest that the visual system represents only the information that is necessary for the immediate visual task. This allows a principled exploration of the stimulus properties that are included in the internal visual representation. The task specificity also has a more general implication that vision should be conceptualized as an active process executing special purpose "routines" that compute only the currently necessary information. Evidence for this view and its implications for visual representations are discussed. Comparison of the change blindness phenomenon and fixation durations shows that conscious report does not reveal the extent of the representations computed by the routines.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2000

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