The influence of painting composition on human perception

Woon Ju Park, Sang Chul Chong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Artists have long explored the way in which we see the world, and they have developed their own tools to portray their vision. The present study investigated whether the compositional information in paintings, an artistic device invented by artists, is utilized when people view paintings. In Experiment 1, we categorized paintings depending on their compositions through experts' ratings. Using the stimuli from Experiment 1, Experiment 2 tested if the compositional information interferes with a target detection task. We found that the false alarms increased when the targets and distracters had the same composition compared to when they were different. Finally, Experiments 3A and 3B examined whether composition information influences the perceptual similarity of paintings. Through a multi-dimensional scaling analysis, we first showed that paintings with the same composition were proximately located in the mental space (Experiment 3A). Using this distance from the MDS analysis, we found that performance on the target detection task decreased as this distance became close (Experiment 3B). These results suggest that people make use of compositions in paintings, thus providing a possible link between artworks and the human visual system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-543
Number of pages23
JournalSeeing and Perceiving
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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