The influence of stimulus format on drawing—a functional imaging study of decision making in portrait drawing

Chris Miall, Se-ho Nam, J. Tchalenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
215 Downloads (Pure)


To copy a natural visual image as a line drawing, visual identification and extraction of features in the image must be guided by top-down decisions, and is usually influenced by prior knowledge. In parallel with other behavioral studies testing the relationship between eye and hand movements when drawing, we report here a functional brain imaging study in which we compared drawing of faces and abstract objects: the former can be strongly guided by prior knowledge, the latter less so. To manipulate the difficulty in extracting features to be drawn, each original image was presented in four formats including high contrast line drawings and silhouettes, and as high and low contrast photographic images. We confirmed the detailed eye–hand interaction measures reported in our other behavioral studies by using in-scanner eye-tracking and recording of pen movements with a touch screen. We also show that the brain activation pattern reflects the changes in presentation formats. In particular, by identifying the ventral and lateral occipital areas that were more highly activated during drawing of faces than abstract objects, we found a systematic increase in differential activation for the face-drawing condition, as the presentation format made the decisions more challenging. This study therefore supports theoretical models of how prior knowledge may influence perception in untrained participants, and lead to experience-driven perceptual modulation by trained artists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-619
Early online date14 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2014


  • Drawing
  • Visual processing
  • Decision-making
  • fMRI
  • Top-down modulation
  • Face processing


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