what allows people to distinguish between shapes and colors?

Posted on 2011-10-24
Last Modified: 2012-05-12
Hello Everyone,

           I have a friend of mine who has a child learning to distinguish between shapes and colors.  Speaking of which, I am wondering exactly what goes on behind the scenes when someone distinguishes shapes and colors.  I always thought it had something to do with the rods and cones of the eye in addition to how the visual cortex of the brain processes the input being given to it by the optic nerve.  I know this is a very vague way of putting it, but, I believe it as something to do with those areas.  At any rate, if someone could offer more detailed information along with any examples to capture their viewpoints given, it will be greatly appreciated.

            Thanks in advance for any input given to this question.  I will look forward to reviewing everyone's comments given.

Question by:GMartin
    LVL 84

    Accepted Solution

    Cones distinguish colors.
    Some ganglia behind the rods and cones do some basic shape processing like edge detection.
    More general shape discrimination is done in the visual cortex.

    Author Comment


            What exactly are cones within the eyes?  And, speaking of the visual cortex of the brain, I will make up a hypothetical situation and see if you agree.  Lets say a child is able to recognize a chair because of its shape.  He or she is able to to this because a "prototype" of a chair is already created within the brain from a previous experience or exposure to a chair. So, when the sensory input matches the prototype stored within the visual cortex of the brain, the, the child is able to recognize the object as a chair.  Is that close to being correct?

               Thank you


    LVL 84

    Assisted Solution

    Cone cells are photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye that are responsible for colour vision.

    A Platonic idealist might agree with your hypothetical.

    But chair recognition involves a lot more than just shape recognition.
    The same chair viewed from different angles or in different lighting conditions can have present very different visual images.
    And rocking chairs or bean bag chairs, or kneeling chairs or swivel chairs or wheel chairs or dentist's chairs or folding chairs or zaisu chairs or cantilever chairs or wicker chairs or birthing chairs or porters's chairs can have very different shapes.
    LVL 32

    Assisted Solution

    But it comes down to pattern matching or interpreting analogs.  If there are four legs perpendicular to the floor, a platform below the waist, and it is placed where you might want to take a load off your's deduction that this may be a chair-like object.

    If it's flat, horizontally aligned, and appears to be able to bear weight, then it is a bench-like object.  We sit on walls and boxes because they are close enough...and no-one has to tell you.  A sane person would not see a wooden crate next to a pointed mound of dirt, then choose the mound of dirt as a seat.

    Repeated exposure to visual patterns, then evaluation by physical interaction, then confirmation (or rejection) of the first assumption.  So, we kick a box first to make sure it's not empty or full of fragile objects.  And we check to see if the seat is up before plopping our rear ends on the toilet.  (OK, the sane ones do...others will sit blindly, then blame the results on me...but I digress.)

    Without the actual experience, the confidence level is normally not as high as say watching someone else, or hearing a conversation about the interaction.

    - "The cardboard chair is sturdy."
    - watching someone else sit gingerly in the chair
    - pressing, pushing, and alighting on the chair yourself

    After the experience, you file those away for later reference.

    Author Comment

    Hi There,

             Thanks so much for the feedback given to this post.  I must confess I do not have a complete understanding of color and shape recognition.  However, using the feedback given I have a general idea of what goes on behind the scenes to some extent.  I am sure I would need some type of college course on the topic to gain a more thorough understanding.

             Thanks again for the help given.


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