Experimental Brain Research

, 189:257 | Cite as

Occipital network for figure/ground organization

Research Article


To study the cortical mechanism of figure/ground categorization in the human brain, we employed fMRI and the temporal-asynchrony paradigm. This paradigm is able to eliminate any differential activation for local stimulus features, and thus to identify only global perceptual interactions. Strong segmentation of the image into different spatial configurations was generated solely from temporal asynchronies between zones of homogeneous dynamic noise. The figure/ground configuration was a single geometric figure enclosed in a larger surround region. In a control condition, the figure/ground organization was eliminated by segmenting the noise field into many identical temporal-asynchrony stripes. The manipulation of the type of perceptual organization triggered dramatic reorganization in the cortical activation pattern. The figure/ground configuration generated suppression of the ground representation (limited to early retinotopic visual cortex, V1 and V2) and strong activation in the motion complex hMT+/V5+; conversely, both responses were abolished when the figure/ground organization was eliminated. These results suggest that figure/ground processing is mediated by top-down suppression of the ground representation in the earliest visual areas V1/V2 through a signal arising in the motion complex. We propose a model of a recurrent cortical architecture incorporating suppressive feedback that operates in a topographic manner, forming a figure/ground categorization network distinct from that for “pure” scene segmentation and thus underlying the perceptual organization of dynamic scenes into cognitively relevant components.


Perceptual organization Figure/ground Contextual interactions Temporal asynchrony Visual cortex Suppression Salience Top-down feedback V1 V2 hMT+ 



This research was supported by National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute Grant EY 13025. Portions of these results were presented at the Vision Science Society and at the SPIE-Human Vision and Electronic Imaging meetings.

Supplementary material

221_2008_1417_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (687 kb)
Supplementary figures (PDF 686 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research InstituteSan FranciscoUSA

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