Perceptual history biases in serial ensemble representation

Noam Khayat, Merav Ahissar, Shaul Hochstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Ensemble perception refers to the visual system’s ability to efficiently represent groups of similar objects as a unified percept using their summary statistical information. Most studies focused on extraction of current trial averages, giving little attention to prior experience effects, although a few recent studies found that ensemble mean estimations contract toward previously presented stimuli, with most of these focusing on explicit perceptual averaging of simultaneously presented item ensembles. Yet, the time element is crucial in real dynamic environments, where we encounter ensemble items over time, aggregating information until reaching summary representations. Moreover, statistical information of objects and scenes is learned over time and often implicitly and then used for predictions that shape perception, promoting environmental stability. Therefore, we now focus on temporal aspects of ensemble statistics and test whether prior information, beyond the current trial, biases implicit perceptual decisions.We designed methods to separate current trial biases from those of previously seen trial ensembles. In each trial, six circles of different sizes were presented serially, followed by two test items. Participants were asked to choose which was present in the sequence. Participants unconsciously rely on ensemble statistics, choosing stimuli closer to the ensemble mean. To isolate the influence of earlier trials, the two test items were sometimes equidistant from the current trial mean. Results showed membership judgment biases toward current trial mean, when informative (largest effect). On equidistant trials, judgments were biased toward previously experienced stimulus statistics. Comparison of similar conditions with a shifted stimulus distribution ruled out a bias toward an earlier, presession, prototypical diameter.We conclude that ensemble perception, even for temporally experienced ensembles, is influenced not only by current trial mean but also by means of recently seen ensembles and that these influences are somewhat correlated on a participant-by-participant basis.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number7
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

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  • central tendency
  • ensemble perception
  • serial dependence
  • set summary statistics


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