Bertamini Lab

Shape perception

I have a long standing interest in shape, including symmetry, contour curvature and part structure (e.g. Bertamini, Friedenberg & Kubovy, 1997). To study shape I have made extensive use of a special case of figure-ground, which is that of a visual hole (Bertamini, 2006). I have published a few studies on holes, but the 2006 paper is the one that makes the case most clearly for holes as ideal stimuli to study figure-ground. I also tried to debunk some confusing statements in the literature about holes being treated as figures as far as shape is concerned. I used mainly experimental methods, but I also published a more phenomenological study in collaboration with Johan Hulleman. On this page are the animations related to the Bertamini & Hulleman (2006) paper.
With respect to perception of symmetry we have more recently focussed on brain responses to symmetry, and in the 2014 review paper I summarise what we know and the challenges ahead (Bertamini & Makin, 2014). In 2021 we produced an online database of EEG data that we have collected. We call this the SPN catalogue.

Preference formation (experimental aesthetics)

Work on experimental aesthetics has a long history. One key question is the link between preference and what we know about visual perception. I tend to use the term preference formation rather than aesthetics because the term aesthetics includes cultural factors, fashions, and the changing canons in art. There are some basic aspects of visual preference that can be studied at a level that is fairly independent of these cultural factors (though this claim may be controversial). One example of visual preference on which we have worked a great deal in my lab is symmetry (Bertamini, Makin, & Rampone, 2013; Makin et al., 2013; Makin, Pecchinenda, & Bertamini, 2012). We have tried to test in many ways whether there is a fast response to visual presentation of symmetry that includes positive affect. We have used affective priming, IAT, EMG, and EEG. The main collaborators in Liverpool are Alexis Makin, Letizia Palumbo, Giulia Rampone and Damien Wright. Outside collaborators include Anna Pecchinenda and Nicola Bruno.

With respect to composition, we have analysed works of art in terms of where objects are placed and where they are facing. Some specific projects on composition have looked at the work of Thomas Bewick (Bennett, Latto, Bertamini, Bianchi & Minshull, 2010), Akira Kurosawa (Bertamini, Bode & Bruno, 2011) and at the modern phenomenon of selfie (Bruno & Bertamini, 2013).

We also organise the series of Visual Properties Driving Visual Preference workshops.

Naive physics

At a more cognitive level I am interested in the kind of understanding of the world that we build from our visual experience. Specifically, I started a sub-area of research concerned with intuitive optics, and I coined the term the Venus effect (Bertamini, Latto & Spooner, 2003). The work on intuitive optics has led to more work on mirrors. I have discovered how difficult it is to access information about the projection on a transparent surface (i.e., a surface perceived as transparent). This is true even when the surface is in front of the observer (Bertamini, Lawson & Liu, 2008). With Luke Jones we have documented the fact that reflections can affect perception of size and distance (when no other information is available) (Jones & Bertamini, 2007). Along with Ivana Bianchi we have studied the perception of the size of one's own head (which we only know from looking into mirrors) (Bianchi, Savardi & Bertamini, 2008).

Multisensory perception

It is important to study how vision interacts with other senses. I have studied two interesting cases of conflict, one generated by holding a 3D Necker cube (Bruno, Jacomuzzi, Bertamini & Meyer, 2007) and the other by holding an Ames' window. Again in collaboration with Nicola Bruno at the University of Parma, we have worked with the rubber hand illusion. This is a well-known phenomenon that is used to study how the internal representation of the body changes based on multisensory input (Bruno, & Bertamini, 2010). The rubber hand is also a tool to study individual differences and hemispheric specialisation (Bertamini & O'Sullivan, 2014).

Evolutionary psychology

Finally, I have a side interest in evolutionary psychology. For instance I studied facial resemblance using morphs (Bressan, Bertamini, Nalli & Zanutto, 2009). I have also studied the role of leg length on perception of attractiveness. In the process we have argued for the advantages of using simplified stimuli (stick figures) in the study of attractiveness (Bertamini & Bennett, 2009).

For a book with Michael Kubovy I carried out a survey of influential papers in Perception, you can see a summary here