Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Visual Cognition

A complete theory of vision requires cooperative interactions between both data-driven and top-down processes.  As philosopher Jerry Fodor has noted (p. 2) "perception is smart like cognition in that it is typically inferential, it is nevertheless dumb like reflexes in that it is typically encapsulated" (Fodor, 1985).  This leads to what Pylyshyn (2003) calls the independence hypothesis – the proposal that some visual processing must be independent of cognition.  However, because we are consciously aware of visual information, a corollary of the independence hypothesis is that there must be some interface between visual processing that is not cognitive and visual processing that is.

This interface is called visual cognition (Enns, 2004; Humphreys & Bruce, 1989; Jacob & Jeannerod, 2003; Ullman, 2000), because it involves visual attention (Wright, 1998).  Theories in visual cognition for both object identification (Treisman, 1988; Ullman, 2000) and the interpretation of motion (Wright & Dawson, 1994) typically de-scribe three stages of processing: the pre-cognitive delivery of visual information, the attentional analysis of this visual information, and the linking of the results of these analyses to general knowledge of the world.


  1. Enns, J. T. (2004). TheThinking Eye, The Seeing Brain: Explorations In Visual Cognition (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton.
  2. Humphreys, G. W., & Bruce, V. (1989). Visual Cognition: Computational, Experimental, And Neuropsychological Perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  3. Jacob, P., & Jeannerod, M. (2003). Ways Of Seeing: The Scope And Limits Of Visual Cognition. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2003). Seeing and Visualizing: It's Not What You Think. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  5. Treisman, A. M. (1988). Features and objects: The fourteenth Bartlett memorial lecture. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 40A, 201-237.
  6. Ullman, S. (2000). High-Level Vision: Object Recognition And Visual Cognition. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  7. Wright, R. D. (1998). Visual Attention. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  8. Wright, R. D., & Dawson, M. R. W. (1994). To what extent do beliefs affect apparent motion? Philosophical Psychology, 7, 471- 491.

(Added March 2011)