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Object Contrast


Explanations > Perception > Visual Perception > Object Contrast

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When we look out at the world, take in the myriad data into our senses (especially our eyes) we see 'things'. This is achieved by distinguishing boundaries that envelop each thing and the contrast between the thing and other things and the background. We then derive meaning by considering how the objects relate, taking into account all kinds of complex contrasts, in order to create meaning from the scene in front of us. We also identify objects by the contrast between the parts, for example in putting together the shapes of clothing to identify a person.

Many things increase object contrast, including:

  • Clear outlines: So they can be visually separated.
  • Shapes: The structure of the outline, such as an adult vs a child.
  • Differing color schemes: That contrasts with the color scheme of the other (eg. one is mostly red while another is mostly green).
  • Texture: The small patterns on each object, for example rough and smooth surfaces.
  • Movement: Differences in speed (eg. one stationary and another moving, or one slow and another fast).
  • Cultural differences: Indicators that they are from different cultures (eg. one as a street gang member and the other a minister).
  • Interaction: How objects are interacting, such as hugging or fighting.
  • Background: The colors and events in the broader context.


A square and a circle in an advert are used to distinguish two different concepts.

A person wearing a suit looks normal in an office, but odd in a swimming pool.


We have patterns that we consider 'normal', where objects fit into recognized relationships and contrasts. When we look at the world, we seek such comforting contrasts in order to reassure ourselves that all is safe and we have no threats to deal with. When reality does not match our patterns, we become confused and fearful, for example when we see a pair of glowing eyes in the darkness but cannot see the body to which they belong.

Contrast is a sliding scale, such that a slight mismatch between perceived and expected contrasts cause only little discomfort, for example when we cannot quite distinguish words in a book we are reading at night.

'Objects' can be conceptual as well as concrete. We think of things in terms by which we can separate them from others and we even try to 'concretize' ideas. We even solidify time into lines.

So what?

To make things stand out, look for all kinds of different ways that they can contrast, including in the mental inferences and interpretations that people will make about what they see. When you want something to stand out, add more forms of contrast. To make things stand out less, make objects similar in more ways.

See also

Contrast Variables


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