Cognitive Daily

What looks good — and what sounds bad?

Uber-geek David Pogue has completed a Casual-Friday-worthy study of the human perceptual system. He wanted to test the “megapixel myth” — the idea that buying a higher megapixel camera doesn’t necessarily mean that you will take better pictures. He made poster-size prints of the same photo at different pixel resolutions: 5, 8, and 13 megapixels, then asked passersby to judge which was which. Ninety-five percent didn’t even try, and only one of those who attempted was able to correctly identify the photos.

But doesn’t the human eye have a full 576 megapixels of resolution? Something must be wrong with either Pogue’s design or Clarkvision’s computation. One possibility: The limiting factor wasn’t the resolution of the human eye, but the printer Pogue used to make the posters.

A related but different topic: What sound is most irritating? Now you can participate in an experiment to find out, and compare your results to others. Study designer Trevor Cox describes the project:

The idea behind the project is to get people thinking about the complex way we listen to and interpret sounds. For instance, you can find out why we find the sound of retching horrible.

By examining people’s voting patterns we will learn more about people’s perception of horrible sounds. We hope to learn about what is the worst sound in the world, and maybe why it is the worst sound.

It has been a lot of fun putting together the website, but I’m glad I no longer have to edit horrible things like the sound of my snotty nose!

In other news:


  1. #1 Jason
    November 28, 2006

    Perhaps the printer was the limiting factor, although that doesn’t weaken Pogue’s argument that digital camera buyers are wasting their money on higher-resolution cameras that do little but increase visible noise and put a cap on possible ISO values.

    My opinion is this:

    Yes, the eye has many, many photoreceptors. However, your experience of sight isn’t the sum of all the photoreceptors; perception is a secondary process, separate from sensation. The brain could create an identical perception out of multiple different patterns of photoreceptor information by automatically interpolating information. All of our visual perceptions are to some degree the result of interpolation and interpretation. So yes, the eye might be able to tell the difference between the different resolutions, but the mind still might not be able to.

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