The role of location in visual feature binding
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Location appears to play a vital role in binding discretely processed visual features into coherent objects. Consequently, it has been proposed that objects are represented for cognition by their spatiotemporal location, with other visual features attached to this location index. On this theory, the visual features of an object are only connected via mutual location; direct binding cannot occur. Despite supporting evidence, some argue that direct binding does take over according to task demands and when representing familiar objects. The current study was developed to evaluate these claims, using a brief memory task to test for contingencies between features under different circumstances. Participants were shown a sequence of three items in different colours and locations, and then asked for the colour and/or location of one of them. The stimuli could either be abstract shapes, or familiar objects. Results indicated that location is necessary for binding regardless of the type of stimulus and task demands, supporting the proposed structure. A follow-up experiment assessed an alternate explanation for the apparent importance of location in binding; eye movements may automatically capture location information, making it impossible to ignore and suggesting a contingency that is not representative of cognitive processes. Participants were required to maintain fixation on half of the trials, with an eye tracker for confirmation. Results indicated that the importance of location in binding cannot be attributed to eye movements. Overall, the findings of this study support the claim that location is essential for visual feature binding, due to the structure of object representations.
KeywordsFeature binding Location Object representation
This research was supported by a Future Fellowship (FT0992123) from the Australian Research Council awarded to I.M. Harris. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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