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James H. Elder, Timothy D. Oleskiw, Ingo Fruend; The role of global cues in the perceptual grouping of natural shapes. Journal of Vision 2018;18(12):14. doi: 10.1167/18.12.14.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Perceptual grouping of the bounding contours of objects is a crucial step in visual scene understanding and object recognition. The standard perceptual model for this task, supported by a convergence of physiological and psychophysical evidence, is based upon an association field that governs local grouping, and a Markov or transitivity assumption that allows global contours to be inferred solely from these local cues. However, computational studies suggest that these local cues may not be sufficient for reliable identification of object boundaries in natural scenes. Here we employ a novel psychophysical method to assess the potential role of more global factors in the perceptual grouping of natural object contours. Observers were asked to detect briefly presented fragmented target contours in oriented element noise. We employed natural animal shape stimuli, which in addition to local grouping cues possess global regularities that could potentially be exploited to guide grouping and thereby improve target detection performance. To isolate the role of these global regularities we contrasted performance with open and closed control target stimuli we call local metamers, as they afford the same local grouping cues as animal shapes. We found that performance for closed metamers exceeded performance for open metamers, while performance for animal targets exceeded both, indicating that global grouping cues represented in higher visual areas codetermine the association between orientation signals coded in early visual cortex. These results demand a revision to the standard model for perceptual grouping of contours to accommodate feedback from higher visual areas coding global shape properties.
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