Surface Filling-In and Contour Interpolation Contribute Independently to Kanizsa Figure Formation

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To explore mechanisms of object integration, the present experiments examined how completion of illusory contours and surfaces modulates the sensitivity of localizing a target probe. Observers had to judge whether a briefly presented dot probe was located inside or outside the region demarcated by inducer elements that grouped to form variants of an illusory, Kanizsa-type figure. From the resulting psychometric functions, we determined observers’ discrimination thresholds as a sensitivity measure. Experiment 1 showed that sensitivity was systematically modulated by the amount of surface and contour completion afforded by a given configuration. Experiments 2 and 3 presented stimulus variants that induced an (occluded) object without clearly defined bounding contours, which gave rise to a relative sensitivity increase for surface variations on their own. Experiments 4 and 5 were performed to rule out that these performance modulations were simply attributable to variable distances between critical local inducers or to costs in processing an interrupted contour. Collectively, the findings provide evidence for a dissociation between surface and contour processing, supporting a model of object integration in which completion is instantiated by feedforward processing that independently renders surface filling-in and contour interpolation and a feedback loop that integrates these outputs into a complete whole.

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