Perceiving natural images may consume less cognitive resources: evidence from image memorability, edge magnitudes, and spectral content
Nakwon Rim1, Omid Kardan2, Sanjay Krishnan1, Wilma A. Bainbridge1, Marc G. Berman1; 1University of Chicago, 2University of Michigan
Theories have suggested that perceiving natural scenes requires less cognitive resources compared to perceiving urban scenes, leading to the cognitive benefits of interacting with natural environments. While studies have shown that natural environments have restorative benefits, the hypothesized mechanisms have not been rigorously tested. Here, we investigated whether perceiving natural scenes may consume less cognitive resources. First, we conducted a continuous recognition task to probe the memorability of images and found that natural images are less remembered, suggesting that fewer cognitive resources are used to process them. Next, using a Canny edge detection algorithm, we analyzed the number and significance of edges in the images and found that the proportion of edges with higher gradient magnitude is smaller in natural images. This suggests that the number of edges essential to capture scene information is smaller for natural images, aligning with theories that suggest perceiving natural images consumes less cognitive resources. Finally, we analyzed the spectral properties of the images by applying a discrete cosine transform to 8x8 pixel tiles. We found that natural scenes have a larger proportion of their spectral energy in high-frequency coefficients. As the human visual system may be less sensitive to high-frequency information, this implies that natural images have less information that will be processed and thus less taxing. In conclusion, we found that natural scenes are less memorable, have less strong edges, and contain more high-frequency information than man-made scene images. These findings are consistent with theories positing that perceiving natural images is less taxing.
Topic Area: PERCEPTION & ACTION: Vision
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