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James R. Pomerantz, Anna I. Cragin, Kimberley D. Orsten, Mary C. Portillo; The computational and cortical bases for configural superiority. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):1384. doi: 10.1167/12.9.1384.
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In the configural superiority effect (CSE; Pomerantz et al., 1977; Pomerantz & Portillo, 2011), people respond more quickly to a whole configuration than to any one of its component parts, even when the parts added to create a whole contribute no information by themselves. For example, people discriminate an arrow from a triangle more quickly than a positive from a negative diagonal even when those diagonals constitute the only difference between the arrows and triangles. How can a neural or other computational system be faster at processing information about combinations of parts - wholes - than about parts taken singly? We consider the results of Kubilius et al. (2011) and discuss three possibilities: (1) Direct detection of wholes through smart mechanisms that compute higher order information without performing seemingly necessary intermediate computations; (2) the “sealed channel hypothesis” (Pomerantz, 1978), which holds that part information is extracted prior to whole information in a feedforward manner but is not available for responses; and (3) a closely related reverse hierarchy model holding that conscious experience begins with higher cortical levels processing wholes, with parts becoming accessible to consciousness only after feedback to lower levels is complete (Hochstein & Ahissar, 2002). We describe a number of CSEs and elaborate both on these mechanisms that might explain them and how they might be confirmed experimentally.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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