Three-dimensional bilateral symmetry bias in judgments of figural identity and orientation

Michael K. McBeath, Diane J. Schiano, Barbara Tversky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The two experiments reported explored a bias toward symmetry in judging identity and orientation of indeterminate two-dimensional shapes. Subjects viewed symmetric and asymmetric filled, random polygons and described "what each figure looks like" and its orientation. Viewers almost universally interpreted the shapes as silhouettes of bilaterally symmetric three-dimensional (3-D) objects. This assumption of 3-D symmetry tended to constrain perceived vantage of the identified objects such that symmetric shapes were interpreted as straight-on views, and asymmetric shapes as profile or oblique views. Because most salient objects in the world are bilaterally symmetric, these findings are consistent with the view that assuming 3-D symmetry can be a robust heuristic for constraining orientation when identifying objects from indeterminate patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-223
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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