Perceiving Object Shape from Specular Highlight Deformation, Boundary Contour Deformation, and Active Haptic Manipulation

Haptic and visual ‘contours’

It is well known that motion facilitates the visual perception of solid object shape, particularly when surface texture or other identifiable features (e.g., corners) are present. Conventional models of structure-from-motion require the presence of texture or identifiable object features in order to recover 3-D structure. Is the facilitation in 3-D shape perception similar in magnitude when surface texture is absent? On any given trial in the current experiments, participants were presented with a single randomly-selected solid object (bell pepper or randomly-shaped “glaven”) for 12 seconds and were required to indicate which of 12 (for bell peppers) or 8 (for glavens) simultaneously visible objects possessed the same shape. The initial single object’s shape was defined either by boundary contours alone (i.e., presented as a silhouette), specular highlights alone, specular highlights combined with boundary contours, or texture.

In addition, there was a haptic condition: in this condition, the participants haptically explored with both hands (but could not see) the initial single object for 12 seconds; they then performed the same shape-matching task used in the visual conditions. For both the visual and haptic conditions, motion (rotation in depth or active object manipulation) was present in half of the trials and was not present for the remaining trials. The effect of motion was quantitatively similar for all of the visual and haptic conditions– e.g., the participants’ performance in Experiment 1 was 93.5 percent higher in the motion or active haptic manipulation conditions (when compared to the static conditions). The current results demonstrate that deforming specular highlights or boundary contours facilitate 3-D shape perception as much as the motion of objects that possess texture. The current results also indicate that the improvement with motion that occurs for haptics is similar in magnitude to that which occurs for vision.

J. F. Norman, F. Phillips, J. R. Cheeseman, K. E. Thomason, C. Ronning, K. Behari, K. Kleinman, A. B. Calloway, and D. Lamirande, “Perceiving Object Shape from Specular Highlight Deformation, Boundary Contour Deformation, and Active Haptic Manipulation,” PLoS ONE, vol. 11, no. 2, p. e0149058, Feb. 2016.


Norman, Phillips et al. 2016