Display-wide influences on figure-ground perception: The case of symmetry

Andrew J. Mojica, Mary A. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Past research has demonstrated that convex regions are increasingly likely to be perceived as figures as the number of alternating convex and concave regions in test displays increases. This region-number effect depends on both a small preexisting preference for convex over concave objects and the presence of scene characteristics (i.e., uniform fill) that allow the integration of the concave regions into a background object/surface. These factors work together to enable the percept of convex objects in front of a background. We investigated whether region-number effects generalize to another property, symmetry, whose effectiveness as a figure property has been debated. Observers reported which regions they perceived as figures in black-and-white displays with alternating symmetric/asymmetric regions. In Experiments 1 and 2, the displays had articulated outer borders that preserved the symmetry/asymmetry of the outermost regions. Region-number effects were not observed, although symmetric regions were perceived as figures more often than chance. We hypothesized that the articulated outer borders prevented fitting a background interpretation to the asymmetric regions. In Experiment 3, we used straight-edge framelike outer borders and observed region-number effects for symmetry equivalent to those observed for convexity. These results (1) show that display-wide information affects figure assignment at a border, (2) extend the evidence indicating that the ability to fit background as well as foreground interpretations is critical in figure assignment, (3) reveal that symmetry and convexity are equally effective figure cues and, (4) demonstrate that symmetry serves as a figural property only when it is close to fixation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1069-1084
Number of pages16
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2014


  • Context-effects
  • Figural cues
  • Figure-ground perception
  • Perceptual organization
  • Symmetry
  • Visual perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Display-wide influences on figure-ground perception: The case of symmetry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this