Scene Context Impairs Perception of Semantically Congruent Objects

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Visual scene context is well-known to facilitate the recognition of scene-congruent objects. Interestingly, however, according to predictive-processing accounts of brain function, scene congruency may lead to reduced (rather than enhanced) processing of congruent objects, compared with incongruent ones, because congruent objects elicit reduced prediction-error responses. We tested this counterintuitive hypothesis in two online behavioral experiments with human participants ( N = 300). We found clear evidence for impaired perception of congruent objects, both in a change-detection task measuring response times and in a bias-free object-discrimination task measuring accuracy. Congruency costs were related to independent subjective congruency ratings. Finally, we show that the reported effects cannot be explained by low-level stimulus confounds, response biases, or top-down strategy. These results provide convincing evidence for perceptual congruency costs during scene viewing, in line with predictive-processing theory.

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