Keywords: deep convolutional neural networks, generalization, drawings, representational similarity analysis
TL;DR: Features in intermediate layers of convolutional neural networks trained on natural images are sufficient for generalization to abstract drawings, but later layers are affected by a texture bias that leads to reduced classification performance.
Abstract: Drawings are universal in human culture and serve as tools to efficiently convey meaning with little visual information. Humans are adept at recognizing even highly abstracted drawings of objects, and their visual system has been shown to respond similarly to different object depictions. Yet, the processing of object drawings in deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) has yielded conflicting results. While CNNs have been shown to perform poorly on drawings, there is evidence that representations in CNNs are similar for object photographs and drawings. Here, we resolve these disparate findings by probing the generalization ability of a CNN trained on natural object images for a set of photos, drawings and sketches of the same objects, with each depiction representing a different level of abstraction. We demonstrate that despite poor classification performance on drawings and sketches, the network exhibits a similar representational structure across levels of abstraction in intermediate layers which, however, disappears in later layers. Further, we show that a texture bias found in CNNs contributes both to the poor classification performance for drawings and the dissimilar representational structure, specifically in the later layers of the network. By finetuning only those layers on a database of object drawings, we show that features in early and intermediate layers learned on natural object photographs are indeed sufficient for downstream recognition of drawings. Our findings reconcile previous investigations on the generalization ability of CNNs for drawings and reveal both opportunities and limitations of CNNs as models for the representation and recognition of drawings and sketches.