Neurophysiological evidence for the influence of past experience on figure-ground perception

Logan T. Trujillo, John J.B. Allen, David M. Schnyer, Mary A. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


A fundamental aspect of perceptual organization entails segregating visual input into shaped figures presented against shapeless backgrounds; an outcome termed "figure-ground perception" or "shape assignment." The present study examined how early in processing past experience exerts an influence on shape assignment. Event-related potential (ERP) measures of brain activity were recorded while observers viewed silhouettes of novel objects that differed in whether or not a familiar shape was suggested on the outside-the groundside-of their bounding edges (experimental versus control silhouettes, respectively). Observers perceived both types of silhouettes as novel shapes and were unaware of the familiar shape suggested on the groundside of experimental silhouettes. Nevertheless, we expected that the familiar shape would be implicitly identified early in processing and would compete for figural status with the novel shape on the inside. Early (106-156 ms) ERPs were larger for experimental silhouettes than for control silhouettes lacking familiarity cues. The early ERP difference occurred during a time interval within which edge-segmentation-dependent response differences have been observed in previous neurophysiological investigations of figure-ground perception. These results provide the first neurophysiological evidence for an influence of past experience during the earliest stages of shape assignment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked potentials
  • Perceptual organization
  • Shape and contour
  • Visual cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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