Topological Relations Between Objects Are Categorically Coded

Andrew Lovett*, Steven L. Franconeri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


How do individuals compare images—for example, two graphs or diagrams—to identify differences between them? We argue that categorical relations between objects play a critical role. These relations divide continuous space into discrete categories, such as “above” and “below,” or “containing” and “overlapping,” which are remembered and compared more easily than precise metric values. These relations should lead to categorical perception, such that viewers find it easier to notice a change that crosses a category boundary (one object is now above, rather than below, another, or now contains, rather than overlaps with, another) than a change of equal magnitude that does not cross a boundary. We tested the influence of a set of topological categorical relations from the cognitive-modeling literature. In a visual same/different comparison task, viewers more accurately noticed changes that crossed relational category boundaries, compared with changes that did not cross these boundaries. The results highlight the potential of systematic exploration of the boundaries of between-object relational categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1408-1418
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • categorical perception
  • open data
  • sequential same/different task
  • spatial relations
  • topological relations
  • visual comparison

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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