September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Can Pac-Man Change Your Perception? Semantic Priming affects the probability of experiencing the Kanizsa Illusion
Author Affiliations
  • Nataly Davidson Litvak
    Tel Aviv University
  • Liad Mudrik
    Tel Aviv University
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2407. doi:
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      Nataly Davidson Litvak, Liad Mudrik; Can Pac-Man Change Your Perception? Semantic Priming affects the probability of experiencing the Kanizsa Illusion. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2407.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The possible effects of cognition on perception are a matter of ongoing debate. An interesting case is visual illusions, which seem to be generally immune to knowledge about their illusory nature. In a series of five experiments, we examine if semantic priming can nevertheless impact such illusions, as a critical test to claims against cognitive effects on perception. We focused on the Kanizsa illusion, in which a shape is perceived via illusory contours. In Exp.1, a display (Kanizsa/no Kanizsa) was presented following a prime image that either promotes a semantic interpretation of the Kanizsa inducers (a Pac-Man game display, assumed to promote perceiving the Kanizsa inducers as Pac-Man characters), or does not (a scrambled version of the Pac-Man display). Participants reported which shape they saw in the Kanizsa display. Fewer detections of the Kanizsa shape were reported in the semantic Pac-Man group. In Exp.2, a non-Pac-Man related semantic prime was used, to negate the explanation that the effect stems from attentional engagement by any meaningful prime. There, no difference was found, suggesting that the effect is uniquely related to the semantic content of the Pac-Man display. Exp.3 and 4 importantly showed that the effect can also be obtained when using the word “PACMAN” as the semantic prime and a meaningless non-word as the non-semantic prime, demonstrating that the effect is independent of the prime’s presentation form. Finally, in Exp. 5, a reversed effect was found, where a semantic prime (the word "Triangle") was actually able to increase the likelihood of perceiving the Kanizsa triangle compared with a meaningless (non-word) or an incongruent ("Square") prime. Taken together, our results provide compelling and converging evidence for semantic, contextual effects on perceiving the illusory Kanizsa shape, hereby supporting claims of cognitive penetrability.


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