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Psychophysical evidence for competition between real and illusory contour processing


Dillenburger,  B
Department Physiology of Cognitive Processes, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Dillenburger, B. (2004). Psychophysical evidence for competition between real and illusory contour processing. Poster presented at Fourth Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society (VSS 2004), Sarasota, FL, USA.

Luminance defined and illusory contours provide vital information about object borders. However, real and illusory contour cues tend to be used under different contexts and can interfere with one another. Although some cells in visual cortex process both real and illusory contours equivalently, recent studies (Ramsden et al 2001) suggest competitive interactions between real (feedforward) and illusory (feedback) contour processing in primate V1 and V2. To test this hypothesis psychophysically, we designed stimuli in which illusory contours are presented with and without the presence of real line components. If real and illusory contour cues are processed by the same mechanism, then the presence of both cues should enhance the percept. If the illusory percept is degraded by the presence of real lines, then independent real and illusory mechanisms are suggested. The perception of a Kanisza-triangle, presented for 250 msec, was measured under three conditions: 1) virtual contour alone, 2) with a short parallel real line superimposed on the virtual contour or 3) with a short orthogonal real line abutting the virtual contour. The real lines were varied from sub- to supra-threshold contrasts. In a 2AFC paradigm three subjects fixated on a spot in the triangle center and indicated whether the side of the triangle was bent outwards or inwards. We found that real lines degraded the percept of the illusory contour (i.e. increased angular thresholds). Such interference occurred even at subthreshold real line contrasts and, in some subjects, was greater for the parallel than orthogonal real line. Our results support the presence of separate mechanisms for the processing of real and illusory contours and suggest that, under some circumstances, real cues can interfere with the processing of illusory cues. We suggest that such interferences occurs by the feedforward influences of the lines which interfere with the feedback influences prominent during illusory contour processing.