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The roles of polarity and symmetry in the perceptual grouping of contour fragments

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

We describe two experiments that investigate the roles of polarity and symmetry in the perceptual grouping of contour fragments. Observers viewed, for one second on each presentation, arrays of oriented, spatial-frequency band-pass, elements, in which a subset of the elements was aligned along a twisting curve. In each of five conditions we measured observers' ability to detect aligned combinations of even- and odd-symmetric elements, of the same and different polarities, against a background of 'noise' elements. As with previous experiments we found that the 'path' could be reliably detected, even when the elements of the path were oriented at angles of up to ± 60 deg relative to each other. Detection of the path was still possible when the polarity of path elements alternated. However, the probability of detection of the path was raised significantly when the path elements were all of the same polarity. Perceptual grouping of even-symmetric elements was no different to perceptual grouping of odd-symmetric elements. The results provide evidence, that in achieving integration of contour fragments, the visual system uses a process that is to some degree phase selective. We use the results to describe how the visual system may resolve natural contours when they occur against backgrounds that vary over a wide range of intensities. The data presented here have been published in conference-abstract form (Hayes et al., 1993; Field et al., 1997).

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Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA; 2: Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia; 3: Department of Ophthalmology, McGill University, Montréal, Québec H3A IAI, Canada


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