Confounds in pictorial sets: The role of complexity and familiarity in basic-level picture processing

Alexandra Forsythe, Gerard Mulhern, Martin Sawey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Complexity is conventionally defined as the level of detail or intricacy contained within a picture. The study of complexity has received relatively little attention-in part, because of the absence of an acceptable metric. Traditionally, normative ratings of complexity have been based on human judgments. However, this study demonstrates that published norms for visual complexity are biased. Familiarity and learning influence the subjective complexity scores for nonsense shapes, with a significant training x familiarity interaction [F(1,52) = 17.53, p <.05]. Several image-processing techniques were explored as alternative measures of picture and image complexity. A perimeter detection measure correlates strongly with human judgments of the complexity of line drawings of real-world objects and nonsense shapes and captures some of the processes important in judgments of subjective complexity, while removing the bias due to familiarity effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-129
Number of pages14
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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