Image Transitions

A mental representation is a theoretical entity believed to be the brain’s construction of the outside world. It allows us to interact with objects, store and retrieve memory, and see what we think we see—mental representations are the means by which we internalize what we know about the world. Mental representations are somewhat flexible, because they must be able to account for changes that may be occurring in the world; a water bottle slightly rotated to the side is still a water bottle, for instance.

Several studies in the past have examined the mental representations of individual objects. However, we’re interested in looking at the mental representation of space itself  and how flexible it is to various transformations.

Transforming an individual object… Transforming all the individual objects… Transforming the entire search space!


This study uses a visual search paradigm (finding a target stimulus among distractors on a display) to investigate how performance is affected by transforming the search space. For the past several years, we have been dealing with several kinds of transformations – mainly image scaling (think of zooming in vs. out):

An example of a display being scaled


In the current stage of the project, we are looking for the conditions that affect our visual search speed by scaling the displays by various amounts. Moreover, we’re using our paradigm to explore the differences between feature search and conjunction search.

From the patterns we find in our results, we can gain insights into how space is represented in the brain and what the role of attention is in visual search. Additionally, like other projects at our lab, we hope the results from this project can ultimately help us improve the designs of various visual displays – from game apps to airplane cockpits!

You Might Like This Project If…

  • You like basic, exploratory research
  • You’re interested in learning how we perceive space
  • You want to learn about different kinds of visual search

Relevant Articles:

Lam, H., Rensink, R. A., & Munzner, T. (2006, July). Effects of 2D geometric transformations on visual memory. In Proceedings of the 3rd symposium on Applied perception in graphics and visualization (pp. 119-126). ACM.

Rensink, R. (2004). The Invariance of Visual Search to Geometric Transformation. Journal of Vision, 4(8), 178.