Bayesian hierarchical grouping: Perceptual grouping as mixture estimation

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15 Scopus citations


We propose a novel framework for perceptual grouping based on the idea of mixture models, called Bayesian hierarchical grouping (BHG). In BHG, we assume that the configuration of image elements is generated by a mixture of distinct objects, each of which generates image elements according to some generative assumptions. Grouping, in this framework, means estimating the number and the parameters of the mixture components that generated the image, including estimating which image elements are "owned" by which objects. We present a tractable implementation of the framework, based on the hierarchical clustering approach of Heller and Ghahramani (2005). We illustrate it with examples drawn from a number of classical perceptual grouping problems, including dot clustering, contour integration, and part decomposition. Our approach yields an intuitive hierarchical representation of image elements, giving an explicit decomposition of the image into mixture components, along with estimates of the probability of various candidate decompositions. We show that BHG accounts well for a diverse range of empirical data drawn from the literature. Because BHG provides a principled quantification of the plausibility of grouping interpretations over a wide range of grouping problems, we argue that it provides an appealing unifying account of the elusive Gestalt notion of Prägnanz.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-597
Number of pages23
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


  • Bayesian inference
  • Computational model
  • Hierarchical representation
  • Perceptual grouping
  • Visual perception

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