People vary in their ability to recognize objects in many domains. Some of this variability is explained by domain-general visual object recognition, captured by the latent construct o, indicated by performance on a range of visual processing tasks with novel or familiar objects. Domain-specific individual differences that are not explained by o are generally assumed to be caused by individual differences in experience. While almost everyone has a lot of experience with food, people vary greatly in their interest in this domain, likely impacting the ability to recognize images of prepared food. Domain-general and domain-specific visual abilities have mostly been studied with individually-presented objects, in subordinate-level categories with common part structure. The domain of prepared food is much more variable and “scene-like”. We aimed to explore evidence for domain-specific variance, and o’s contribution, for recognition of prepared food. We created two tests to measure food recognition abilities, a 3-alternatives sequential food matching task (ω = .804) and a 4-alternatives oddball task (ω = .803). Seventy-seven students (51 female) completed the two food tasks and two tasks with novel objects to estimate o. Performance on the two food tasks was correlated (r=.623, BF10=8.81e+6), even after controlling for o (r=.555, BF10=99859). The correlation between o and the aggregate performance on the two food tasks was r=.332 (BF10=10.16). Women had better food recognition performance than men (BF10=5.755) even though they did not report more interest in prepared food (BF10 = .471). The results suggest our new tests tap into a domain-specific ability for the visual recognition of prepared food. Performance on these tasks is also influenced by domain-general object recognition abilities. The visual recognition of prepared food may be a fertile ground to explore the contribution of these influences to visual decisions, in a domain that has health and marketing applications.
Acknowledgements: This work was supported by the David K. Wilson Chair Research Fund (Vanderbilt University).