Attention and competition in figure-ground perception

Mary A. Peterson, Elizabeth Salvagio

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


What are the roles of attention and competition in determining where objects lie in the visual field, a phenomenon known as figure-ground perception? In this chapter, we review evidence that attention and other high-level factors such as familiarity affect figure-ground perception, and we discuss models that implement these effects. Next, we consider the Biased Competition Model of Attention in which attention is used to resolve the competition for neural representation between two nearby stimuli; in this model the response to the stimulus that loses the competition is suppressed. In the remainder of the chapter we discuss recent behavioral evidence that figure-ground perception entails between-object competition in which the response to the shape of the losing competitor is suppressed. We also describe two experiments testing whether more attention is drawn to resolve greater figure-ground competition, as would be expected if the Biased Competition Model of Attention extends to figure-ground perception. In these experiments we find that responses to targets on the location of a losing strong competitor are slowed, consistent with the idea that the location of the losing competitor is suppressed, but responses to targets on the winning competitor are not speeded, which is inconsistent with the hypothesis that attention is used to resolve figure-ground competition. In closing, we discuss evidence that attention can operate by suppression as well as by facilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAttention
EditorsNarayanan Srinivasan
Number of pages13
StatePublished - 2009

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123


  • attention
  • competition
  • familiarity
  • figure-ground perception
  • high-level effects
  • suppression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Attention and competition in figure-ground perception'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this