Age-related deficits in inhibition in figure-ground assignment

John A.E. Anderson, M. Karl Healey, Lynn Hasher, Mary A. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We assessed age differences in the ability to resolve competition for figural status in stationary displays using small, enclosed, symmetrical silhouettes that participants classified as depicting ''novel'' or ''familiar'' shapes. The silhouettes were biased such that the inside was perceived as the shaped figure, and the outside was perceived as a shapeless ground. The critical manipulation was whether a portion of a meaningful object was suggested on the outside of the border of some of the novel silhouettes but not others (M+Ground and M-Ground novel silhouettes, respectively). This manipulation was intended to induce greater inhibitory competition for figural status from the groundside in M+Ground silhouettes than M-Ground silhouettes. In previous studies, young adults classified M+Ground silhouettes as ''novel'' faster than M-Ground silhouettes (Trujillo, Allen, Schnyer, & Peterson, 2010), suggesting that young adults may recruit more inhibition to resolve figure-ground when there is more competition. We replicated this effect with young adults in the present study, but older adults showed the opposite pattern and were less accurate in classifying M+Ground than M-Ground silhouettes. These results extend the evidence for inhibitory deficits in older adults to figure assignment in stationary displays. The (M+Ground - M-Ground) RT differences were evident in observers' longest responses, consistent with the hypothesis that inhibitory deficits are evident when the need for inhibition is substantial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2016


  • Aging
  • Figure-ground
  • Inhibition
  • Object perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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