An Advantage for Smooth Compared With Angular Contours in the Speed of Processing Shape

Bertamini, Marco and Palumbo, Letizia and Redies, Christoph (2019) An Advantage for Smooth Compared With Angular Contours in the Speed of Processing Shape. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. ISSN 1939-1277

XHP-2019-0877.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (2MB) | Preview
Official URL:


Curvature along a contour is important for shape perception, and a special role may be played by points of maxima (extrema) along the contour. Angles are discontinuities in curvature, a special case at one extreme of the curvature continuum. We report 4 studies using abstract shapes and comparing polygons (curvature discontinuities at the vertices) and a smoothed version of polygons (no vertices). Polygons are simpler and are defined by a small set of vertices, whereas smoothed shapes have a continuous curvature change along the contour. Angles have also been discussed as an early signal of threat and danger, and on that basis, one may predict faster responses to polygons. However, curved shapes are more typical of the natural environment in which the visual system has evolved. For a detection task, we found faster responses to smooth shapes, not mediated by complexity (Experiment 1). We then tested 3 orthogonal shape tasks: comparison between shapes (detection of repetition; Experiment 2a), comparison after a rotation (Experiment 2b), and detection of bilateral symmetry (Experiment 3). In all tasks, responses for smoothed stimuli were faster; there was also an interaction with type of response: Trials with smooth shapes were faster when a positive response was produced. Overall, there was evidence that smooth shapes with continuous change in curvature along the contour are processed more efficiently, and they tend to be classified as targets. We discuss this in relation to shape analysis and to the preference for smoothed over angular shapes.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information and Comments: Copyright 2019 American Psychological Association. This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record. The final, published version is available at
Keywords: perception, visual preference, curvature, complexity
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Science > Psychology
Depositing User: Letizia Palumbo
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2019 08:21
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2019 08:21

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item