Semantic category priming from the groundside of objects shown in nontarget locations and at unpredictable times

Colin S. Flowers, Mary A. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Previous research demonstrated that familiar objects that are suggested, but not consciously perceived, on the groundside of the contours of a figure activate their semantic category during perceptual organization, at least when the figure appears at fixation at an expected time. Here, we investigate whether evidence for such semantic activation extends to stimuli presented at unpredictable times in peripheral locations. Participants categorized words shown centrally as denoting natural or artificial objects (Experiments 1 and 2a) or positive or negative concepts (Experiment 2b). Prior to theword, two distractor silhouettes appeared above and below fixation; both depicted novel figures. On experimental trials, portions of well-known (familiar) objects were suggested on the groundside of the borders of one (Experiment 1) or both (Experiment 2a and 2b) silhouettes. In Experiment 1, reaction times were slower when targets words were preceded by experimental distractor silhouettes regardless of whether the object suggested on the groundside of their borderswas in the same ora different category as the object denoted by the word. Overall slowing may have occurred because (a) semantic category access by objects suggested on the groundside of experimental distractor silhouettes was sufficient to require filtering but not category-specific priming, (b)more competition for object status slowed processingofexperimentalcomparedtocontrolsilhouettes, or (c) featural differences increased the difficulty of processing the experimental versus the control silhouettes. The use of two identical experimental silhouettes in Experiment 2a allowed a semantic category priming effect to emerge, showing that thecategories ofobjects suggested on the groundside of silhouette borders can be activated at unpredictable times innontarget locations andinmore than onelocationofthevisual field.Experiment2asuggestedthat (a)betterexplains theresults of Experiment 1 than (b and c). Experiment 2b further ruled out explanations (b and c) as reasons for the Experiment 1 results by showing that the samepatternisnotobtainedwhenthesemantic categoryof the objects suggested on the groundside of the experimental silhouettes borders is not task-relevant and does not require filtering. Thus, spatial prime-target congruence and temporal certainty are not necessary for priming by objects suggested on the groundside of figures. Implications forourunderstandingofthecomplexprocesses involved in perceptual organization are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number13
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Figure-ground perception
  • Object perception
  • Perceptual organization
  • Priming
  • Semantic category

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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