Voluntary control of illusory contour formation
The extent to which visual inference is shaped by attentional goals is unclear. Voluntary attention may simply modulate the priority with which information is accessed by the higher cognitive functions involved in perceptual decision making. Alternatively, voluntary attention may influence fundamental visual processes, such as those involved in segmenting an incoming retinal signal into a structured scene of coherent objects, thereby determining perceptual organization. Here we tested whether the segmentation and integration of visual form can be determined by an observer’s goals, by exploiting a novel variant of the classical Kanizsa figure. We generated predictions about the influence of attention with a machine classifier and tested these predictions with a psychophysical response classification technique. Despite seeing the same image on each trial, observers’ perception of illusory spatial structure depended on their attentional goals. These attention-contingent illusory contours directly conflicted with other, equally plausible visual forms implied by the geometry of the stimulus, revealing that attentional selection can determine the perceived layout of a fragmented scene. Attentional goals, therefore, not only select precomputed features or regions of space for prioritized processing, but under certain conditions also greatly influence perceptual organization, and thus visual appearance.
KeywordsObject-based attention Cognitive and attentional control Grouping Segmentation
We are indebted to Peter Bex, who developed the novel Kanizsa figure with us and provided helpful feedback on our study design and results. We also thank Tom Wallis for feedback on an earlier draft that led to the mixture modeling and for overall improvements in the manuscript. This research was supported by funding to W.J.H. from King’s College Cambridge and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (APP1091257), and by funding to R.R. (ECF-2017-573) from the Leverhulme Trust. Both authors designed the experiment and collected the data. W.J.H. analyzed the experimental data, R.R. performed the SVM analyses, and both authors performed the model comparisons. Both authors contributed equally to the writing of the manuscript. We declare we have no competing interests.
- Abbey, C. K., Eckstein, M. P., & Bochud, F. O. (1999). Estimation of human-observer templates in two-alternative forced-choice experiments. In E. A. Krupinski (Ed.), Proceedings of Medical Imaging 1999: Image perception and performance (pp. 284–295). Bellingham: International Society for Optics and Photonics. https://doi.org/10.1117/12.349653 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Ahumada, A. J., Beard, B. L., & Ellis, S. R. (1998). Response classification images in Vernier acuity. Article presented at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Fort Lauderdale.Google Scholar
- Beard, B. L., & Ahumada, A. J., Jr. (1998). Technique to extract relevant image features for visual tasks. In B. E. Rogowitz & T. N. Pappas (Eds.), Human vision and electronic imaging III (pp. 79–85). Bellingham, WA: International Society for Optics and Photonics. 10.1117/12.320099Google Scholar
- Harrison, W. J., Ayeni, A. J., & Bex, P. J. (2019). Attentional selection and illusory surface appearance. Scientific Reports. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-37084-7
- JASP Team. (2017). JASP [Computer software]. Retrieved from https://jasp-stats.org/download/
- Murray, M. M., Wylie, G. R., Higgins, B. A., Javitt, D. C., Schroeder, C. E., & Foxe, J. J. (2002). The spatiotemporal dynamics of illusory contour processing: Combined high-density electrical mapping, source analysis, and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 5055–5073.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Necker, L. A. (1832). LXI. Observations on some remarkable optical phænomena seen in Switzerland; and on an optical phænomenon which occurs on viewing a figure of a crystal or geometrical solid. London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 1, 329–337. https://doi.org/10.1080/14786443208647909 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Rubin, E. (1915). Synsoplevede Figurer: Studier i psykologisk Analyse/Visuell wahrgenommene Figuren: Studien in psychologischer Analyse [Visually perceived figures: Studies in psychological analysis]. Copenhagen, Denmark: Gyldendalske Boghandel.Google Scholar
- Shapley, R., Rubin, N., & Ringach, D. (2004). Visual segmentation and illusory contours. In L. M. Chalupa & J. S. Werner (Eds.), The visual neurosciences (Vol. 2, pp. 1119–1128). Cambridge: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.cns.nyu.edu/nava/MyPubs/Shapley-Rubin-Ringach_VisSeg_MITpress2004.pdf Google Scholar
- Wagemans, J., Elder, J. H., Kubovy, M., Palmer, S. E., Peterson, M. A., Singh, M., & von der Heydt, R. (2012). A century of Gestalt psychology in visual perception: I. Perceptual grouping and figure–ground organization. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 1172–1217. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029333 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Zhou, H., Friedman, H. S., & von der Heydt, R. (2000). Coding of border ownership in monkey visual cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 20, 6594–6611. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.20-17-06594.2000 CrossRefGoogle Scholar