Use of interreflection and shadow for surface contact

Cindee Madison, William Thompson, Daniel Kersten, Peter Shirley, Brian Smits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The interaction of light with surfaces results in a number of lighting effects that may serve as valuable visual cues. Previous research on shadows has shown them to be effective in determining the three-dimensional (3-D) layout of a scene, but interreflections have been ignored as cues for spatial layout. Interreflections as well as shadows may help to disambiguate the 3-D layout of objects by providing information about an object's contact with a surface. We generated computer images of a box on an extended textured ground plane that was either in contact with the ground or was slightly above the ground. Images were rendered for four conditions: (1) no shadow + no interreflection, (2) shadow only, (3) interreflection only, and (4) shadow + interreflection. A photometrically incorrect condition was also included. The participants rated the degree of contact for each image on a scale, which was used to generate receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves and a measure of sensitivity. In the images with no shadows or interreflections, the participants performed at chance levels. Interreflections, shadows, and a combination of interreflections and shadows all resulted in high sensitivity for judging object contact. More important, information from shadows and interreflections can be combined, resulting in near-perfect judgment of surface contact. Interreflections and shadows can be effective cues for object contact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-194
Number of pages8
JournalPerception and Psychophysics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2001


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