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What Is Visual Cognition?

Marlene de Wilde
Marlene de Wilde

Visual cognition covers many aspects such as face, scene and object recognition, visual attention and search, visual word recognition and reading, eye movement control and active vision, short-term and long-term visual memory and visual imagery. Cognition refers to the way an individual acquires and processes information and those who veer toward a visual cognitive style prefer to process visual information rather than, for example, acoustic or verbal information. There are several strategies one can use when processing visual information

Cognition means mental processes such as remembering, talking, problem solving and decision making. Visual cognition refers to the way the brain responds to visual stimuli; in other words, the subjective process where the seeing becomes, through an objective process, an object, word or memory. Before cognition can take place, there must be some sort of sensory input — in this case, a visual one. What the eye sees is not, say, a vase. What the eye sees is a series of lines, shapes and colors. It is only when that information has reached the brain and been processed, that the shape becomes a rounded pottery vase. This may sound like a simple process but it is not.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The defining of the shape as a vase is the result of visual cognition, but the conclusion reached could just as easily have been a water jug or a candle holder. Each decision is made mainly by first rejecting all of the other possibilities which is, in turn, due to experience, bias or even a whim. This kind of information processing takes into consideration visual domains like depth and light and dynamic domains such as motion and intentionality.

Visual cognition has only been taken seriously since the late 1980's when, largely due to technological advances, new and remarkable aspects of processing visual stimuli were discovered. However, human vision still raises many questions. Research has shown that a person cannot see something even though he may be looking right at it if, at the same time, he is concentrating on some other visual pattern. One study showed that people are unaware of what is in their visual field 99% of the time, yet human beings think they can always see everything. This occurs because if a person needs to see something, through a series of rapid eye movements, he can process all the visual information he needs at the time. The brain constructs a visual query and so a visual search is made to satisfy that query.

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      Woman holding a book