Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 1444–1451 | Cite as

Seeing and liking: Biased perception of ambiguous figures consistent with the “inward bias” in aesthetic preferences

  • Yi-Chia ChenEmail author
  • Brian J. SchollEmail author
Brief Report


Aesthetic preferences are ubiquitous in visual experience. Indeed, it seems nearly impossible in many circumstances to perceive a scene without also liking or disliking it to some degree. Aesthetic factors are only occasionally studied in mainstream vision science, though, and even then they are often treated as functionally independent from other aspects of perception. In contrast, the present study explores the possibility that aesthetic preferences may interact with other types of visual processing. We were inspired, in particular, by the inward bias in aesthetic preferences: When an object with a salient “front” is placed near the border of a frame (say, in a photograph), observers tend to find the image more aesthetically pleasing if the object faces inward (toward the center) than if it faces outward (away from the center). We employed similar stimuli, except that observers viewed framed figures that were ambiguous in terms of the direction they appeared to be facing. The resulting percepts were influenced by the frames in a way that corresponded to the inward bias: When a figure was placed near a frame’s border, observers tended to see whichever interpretation was facing inward. This effect occurred for both abstract geometric figures (e.g., ambiguously-oriented triangles) and meaningful line drawings (e.g., left-facing ducks or right-facing rabbits). The match between this new influence on ambiguous figure perception and the previously studied aesthetic bias suggests new ways in which aesthetic factors may relate not only to what we like, but also to what we see in the first place.


Ambiguous figures Bistable images Aesthetics Inward bias 



For helpful conversation and/or comments on earlier drafts, we thank Chaz Firestone, Brandon Liverence, and Aysu Suben.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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