Inhibitory Competition Between Shape Properties in Figure-Ground Perception

Mary A. Peterson, Emily Skow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Theories of figure-ground perception entail inhibitory competition between either low-level units (edge or feature units) or high-level shape properties. Extant computational models instantiate the 1st type of theory. The authors investigated a prediction of the 2nd type of theory: that shape properties suggested on the ground side of an edge are suppressed when they lose the figure-ground competition. In Experiment 1, the authors present behavioral evidence of the predicted suppression: Object decisions were slower for line drawings that followed silhouettes suggesting portions of objects from the same rather than a different category on their ground sides. In Experiment 2, the authors reversed the silhouette's figure-ground relationships and obtained speeding rather than slowing in the same category condition, thereby demonstrating that the Experiment 1 results reflect suppression of those shape properties that lose the figure-ground competition. These experiments provide the first clear empirical evidence that figure-ground perception entails inhibitory competition between high-level shape properties and demonstrate the need for amendments to existing computational models. Furthermore, these results suggest that figure-ground perception may itself be an instance of biased competition in shape perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-267
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • biased competition
  • configural cues
  • familiarity
  • figure-ground perception
  • inhibitory competition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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