Subordinate-level object classification reexamined

Irving Biederman, Suresh Subramaniam, Moshe Bar, Peter Kalocsai, József Fiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The classification of a table as round rather than square, a car as a Mazda rather than a Ford, a drill bit as 3/8-inch rather than 1/4-inch, and a face as Tom have all been regarded as a single process termed "subordinate classification." Despite the common label, the considerable heterogeneity of the perceptual processing required to achieve such classifications requires, minimally, a more detailed taxonomy. Perceptual information relevant to subordinate-level shape classifications can be presumed to vary on continua of (a) the type of distinctive information that is present, nonaccidental or metric, (b) the size of the relevant contours or surfaces, and (c) the similarity of the to-be-discriminated features, such as whether a straight contour has to be distinguished from a contour of low curvature versus high curvature. We consider three, relatively pure cases. Case 1 subordinates may be distinguished by a representation, a geon structural description (GSD), specifying a nonaccidental characterization of an object's large parts and the relations among these parts, such as a round table versus a square table. Case 2 subordinates are also distinguished by GSDs, except that the distinctive GSDs are present at a small scale in a complex object so the location and mapping of the GSDs are contingent on an initial basic-level classification, such as when we use a logo to distinguish various makes of cars. Expertise for Cases 1 and 2 can be easily achieved through specification, often verbal, of the GSDs. Case 3 subordinates, which have furnished much of the grist for theorizing with "view-based" template models, require fine metric discriminations. Cases 1 and 2 account for the overwhelming majority of shape-based basic-and subordinate-level object classifications that people can and do make in their everyday lives. These classifications are typically made quickly, accurately, and with only modest costs of viewpoint changes. Whereas the activation of an array of multiscale, multiorientation filters, presumed to be at the initial stage of all shape processing, may suffice for determining the similarity of the representations mediating recognition among Case 3 subordinate stimuli (and faces), Cases 1 and 2 require that the output of these filters be mapped to classifiers that make explicit the nonaccidental properties, parts, and relations specified by the GSDs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-153
Number of pages23
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jul 1999
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Subordinate-level object classification reexamined'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this