Visual communication in context
Judith E. Fan
Stanford, Psychology Department
Communication is central to the success of our species: it allows us to learn from each other, coordinate our actions, and express otherwise hidden thoughts. Critically, human communication goes beyond language production — humans also express their ideas in visual form. Visual communication lies at the heart of key innovations, and forms the foundation for the cultural transmission of knowledge and higher-level reasoning. My recent work examines drawing, the most basic form of visual communication. Communicative uses of drawing pose a core challenge for theories of vision and communication alike: they require a detailed understanding of how sensory information is encoded and how social context guides what information is relevant to communicate. Our strategy for addressing this challenge is to combine high-performing computational models of vision with formal Bayesian models of social reasoning during communication in order to explain how people flexibly adapt their drawings according to the current context. In this talk, I will briefly review my prior work, describe our current experimental and modeling approach in more detail, and summarize some of our preliminary results. In the long run, understanding the computational basis of visual communication may shed light on the nature of human visual abstraction and the sources of variation in pictorial style.