Figure-ground assignment to a translating contour: A preference for advancing vs. receding motion

2009-01-01T00:00:00Z (GMT) by E Barenholtz Michael J. Tarr
Past research on figure-ground assignment to contours has largely considered static stimuli. Here we report a simple and extremely robust dynamic cue to figural assignment, based on whether the bounding region of a contour is growing larger within the field of view ("advancing") rather than smaller ("receding"). Subjects viewed a straight or jagged contour dividing two colored regions translating behind a virtual aperture and had to report which color they had seen "moving in front", effectively assigning figure to that side of the contour. Across three experiments, subjects showed a strong preference to assign figure such that the bounded contour was advancing. This was true regardless of the direction of motion of the contour and regardless of the initial/ending size of the bounded regions (i.e., the motion cue served to override the conventional cue to figure-ground of smaller area). In a fourth, control experiment, subjects showed no such bias when it was the aperture, rather than the contour, that moved, demonstrating that the effect depends on contour motion and not simply an increase in area. We discuss a possible explanation for this bias as well as the general implications regarding dynamic factors in form perception.