Visual saliency is the perceptual quality that makes some items in visual scenes stand out from their immediate contexts. Visual saliency plays important roles in natural vision in that saliency can direct eye movements, deploy attention, and facilitate tasks like object detection and scene understanding. A central unsolved issue is: What features should be encoded in the early visual cortex for detecting salient features in natural scenes? To explore this important issue, we propose a hypothesis that visual saliency is based on efficient encoding of the probability distributions (PDs) of visual variables in specific contexts in natural scenes, referred to as context-mediated PDs in natural scenes. In this concept, computational units in the model of the early visual system do not act as feature detectors but rather as estimators of the contextmediated PDs of a full range of visual variables in natural scenes, which directly give rise to a measure of visual saliency of any input stimulus. To test this hypothesis, we developed a model of the context-mediated PDs in natural scenes using a modified algorithm for independent component analysis (ICA) and derived a measure of visual saliency based on these PDs estimated from a set of natural scenes. We demonstrated that visual saliency based on the context-mediated PDs in natural scenes effectively predicts human gaze in free-viewing of both static and dynamic natural scenes. This study suggests that the computation based on the context-mediated PDs of visual variables in natural scenes may underlie the neural mechanism in the early visual cortex for detecting salient features in natural scenes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)