Are Vision Language Models Texture or Shape Biased and Can We Steer Them?

Paul Gavrikov, Jovita Lukasik, Steffen Jung, Robert Geirhos, Bianca Lamm, Muhammad Jehanzeb Mirza, Margret Keuper, Janis Keuper
Computer Science, Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (cs.CV), Artificial Intelligence (cs.AI), Machine Learning (cs.LG), Neurons and Cognition (q-bio.NC)
2024-03-14 00:00:00
Vision language models (VLMs) have drastically changed the computer vision model landscape in only a few years, opening an exciting array of new applications from zero-shot image classification, over to image captioning, and visual question answering. Unlike pure vision models, they offer an intuitive way to access visual content through language prompting. The wide applicability of such models encourages us to ask whether they also align with human vision - specifically, how far they adopt human-induced visual biases through multimodal fusion, or whether they simply inherit biases from pure vision models. One important visual bias is the texture vs. shape bias, or the dominance of local over global information. In this paper, we study this bias in a wide range of popular VLMs. Interestingly, we find that VLMs are often more shape-biased than their vision encoders, indicating that visual biases are modulated to some extent through text in multimodal models. If text does indeed influence visual biases, this suggests that we may be able to steer visual biases not just through visual input but also through language: a hypothesis that we confirm through extensive experiments. For instance, we are able to steer shape bias from as low as 49% to as high as 72% through prompting alone. For now, the strong human bias towards shape (96%) remains out of reach for all tested VLMs.
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