Perceptual representation and effectiveness of local figure-ground cues in natural contours

Ko Sakai, Shouhei Matsuoka, Ken Kurematsu, Yasuhiro Hatori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


A contour shape strongly influences the perceptual segregation of a figure from the ground. We investigated the contribution of local contour shape to figure-ground segregation. Although previous studies have reported local contour features that evoke figure-ground perception, they were often image features and not necessarily perceptual features. First, we examined whether contour features, specifically, convexity, closure, and symmetry, underlie the perceptual representation of natural contour shapes. We performed similarity tests between local contours, and examined the contribution of the contour features to the perceptual similarities between the contours. The local contours were sampled from natural contours so that their distribution was uniform in the space composed of the three contour features. This sampling ensured the equal appearance frequency of the factors and a wide variety of contour shapes including those comprised of contradictory factors that induce figure in the opposite directions. This sampling from natural contours is advantageous in order to randomly pickup a variety of contours that satisfy a wide range of cue combinations. Multidimensional scaling analyses showed that the combinations of convexity, closure, and symmetry contribute to perceptual similarity, thus they are perceptual quantities. Second, we examined whether the three features contribute to local figure-ground perception. We performed psychophysical experiments to judge the direction of the figure along the local contours, and examined the contribution of the features to the figure-ground judgment. Multiple linear regression analyses showed that closure was a significant factor, but that convexity and symmetry were not. These results indicate that closure is dominant in the local figure-ground perception with natural contours when the other cues coexist with equal probability including contradictory cases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1685
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberNOV
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Border ownership
  • Contour shape
  • Gestalt factor
  • Natural image
  • Perception
  • Psychophysical experiment


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