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Do people recognize objects faster when both shape and color are present? Can color introduce more cognitive load to identify the object? Let's say there is a row of icons. Users need to quickly (no more than 3 seconds) decide which icon to click on. Which icon configuration would lead to quicker decision making?

  1. shape only (no color)
  2. shape and color

Do people react to color or shape first?

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Common sense answer: Color and shape influence object recognition, if they are indicative of the object. If you want to recognize tomatoes among apples, color will help. If you want to recognize carrot leaves among weeds, form will help. If you want to recognize green squares among blue triangles, both form and color will help. People will process the most intense stimulus characteristic first, no matter if it is helpful in recognition or not: alarm colors always; simple, clear and recognizable shapes, if the colors are muted. –  what Sep 3 '13 at 21:19
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People are generally faster to find a dissimilar stimulus when it differs along two dimensions (color+shape) from the rest, but only if they are looking for those dimensions (e.g. find all objects that are red diamonds is faster than find all objects that are red). However, if they are looking for dimensions which are not present, this effect reverses (e.g. find all objects that are not blue is faster than find all objects that are not blue circles).

The reasons behind this are still a matter of debate, but one model (Buckingham et al, 2012) suggests that the best explanation is that both dimensions are processed simultaneously. See here for more information on why this model fits the data: Two perceptual anomalies explained by a statistically optimal model.

Buckingham, S., de Gardelle, V., Avery, S., & Summerfield, C. (2012). Two perceptual anomalies explained by a statistically optimal model. Journal of Vision, 12(9), 1053-1053.

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