Subjective randomness and natural scene statistics

Anne S. Hsu, Thomas L. Griffiths, Ethan Schreiber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Accounts of subjective randomness suggest that people consider a stimulus random when they cannot detect any regularities characterizing the structure of that stimulus. We explored the possibility that the regularities people detect are shaped by the statistics of their natural environment. We did this by testing the hypothesis that people's perception of randomness in two-dimensional binary arrays (images with two levels of intensity) is inversely related to the probability with which the array's pattern would be encountered in nature. We estimated natural scene probabilities for small binary arrays by tabulating the frequencies with which each pattern of cell values appears. We then conducted an experiment in which we collected human randomness judgments. The results show an inverse relationship between people's perceived randomness of an array pattern and the probability of the pattern appearing in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)624-629
Number of pages6
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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