Pattern recognition (psychology)

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Mirror induced behavior in the magpie

In psychology and cognitive neuroscience, pattern recognition describes a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory.[1] Among others, the recognized patterns can be those perceived in facial features,[2] units of music,[3] components of language[4] or characters and other symbols.[1] One theory understands patterns as a set of characteristic features extracted from the stimulus, but it does not comprehensively describe the process or the role of context and there is a multitude of other theories with different approaches.[lower-alpha 1] Pattern recognition does not occur instantly, although it does happen automatically and spontaneously.[citation needed] Pattern recognition is an innate ability of animals.[citation needed]

Theories of pattern recognition

Template matching

The incoming sensory information is compared directly to copies (templates) stored in the long term memory. These copies are stored in the process of our past experiences and learning.

E.g. A A A are all recognized as the letter A but not B.

Note: This does not allow for variation in letters unless there are templates for each variation.[citation needed]

Prototype matching

Prototype means a concept of average characteristics of a particular subject. It can be found throughout the world. For instance a concept of small animal with feathers, beak, two wings that can fly is a prototype concept of a crow, sparrow, hen, eagle, etc. Prototype matching, unlike template matching, does not emphasize a perfect match between the incoming stimuli and the stored concept in the brain.

Feature analysis

According to this theory, the sensory system breaks down the incoming stimuli into its features and processes the information. Some features may be more important for recognition than others. All stimuli have a set of distinctive features. Feature analysis proceeds through 4 stages.[citation needed]

  1. Detection
  2. Pattern dissection
  3. Feature comparison in memory
  4. Recognition

Multiple discrimination scaling

Template and feature analysis approaches to recognition of objects (and situations) have been merged / reconciled / overtaken by multiple discrimination theory. This states that the amounts in a test stimulus of each salient feature of a template are recognized in any perceptual judgment as being at a distance in the universal unit of 50% discrimination (the objective performance 'JND': Torgerson, 1958) from the amount of that feature in the template (Booth & Freeman, 1993, Acta Psychologica).

False pattern recognition

The human tendency to see patterns that do not actually exist is called apophenia. Examples of apophenia include the Man in the Moon, faces or figures in shadows, clouds and in patterns with no deliberate design, such as the swirls on a baked confection, and the perception of causal relationships between events which are, in fact, unrelated. Apophenia figures prominently in conspiracy theories, gambling, misinterpretation of statistics and scientific data, and some kinds of religious and paranormal experiences. Misperception of patterns in random data is called pareidolia.

See also


  1. Eysenck & Keane 2003, pp. 83–117, see also context as described by Krumhansl 2001, pp. 3–8


  1. 1.0 1.1 Eysenck & Keane 2003, pp. 83–117.
  2. Chambon et al. 2007, p. 2.
  3. Krumhansl 2001, pp. 3–8.
  4. Margolis 1996, pp. 56–57.


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External links

Media related to Visual pattern recognition at Wikimedia Commons