Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Perceptual Organization Based on Illusory Regions in Infancy

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Perceptual Organization Based on Illusory Regions in Infancy

Article excerpt

Prior research indicates that, like adults, infants use enclosed regions to group elements. It is not clear whether infants or adults can use regions that have to be inferred from illusory contours to group elements. We examined whether 3- to 4-month-olds use illusory regions to group elements and generalize this organization to novel regions. Infants habituated to pairs of shapes in illusory vertical or horizontal regions subsequently discriminated, in novel regions, pairs of elements that had previously shared a region from pairs of elements that had been in different regions. A control group of infants, who had experienced the same stimuli except for the presence of illusory regions, failed to discriminate between within-region and between-region pairs of stimuli. These results reveal that (1) illusory regions can be used to group elements, (2) perceptual organization is sufficiently developed early in life for 3- to 4-month-olds to group on the basis of ecologically relevant illusory contours, and (3) such grouping in infancy generalizes to novel regions.

One of the significant issues in psychology is the question of how we experience the world around us in meaningful ways even though the information that impinges on our senses often has multiple perceptual interpretations. Researchers have theorized that our visual system solves this problem by following specific rules that govern the translation of elemental information into coherent objects and events (e.g., Kellman, 2003; Palmer, 2003; Rock & Palmer, 1990). Many of these rules were proposed by Gestalt theorists several decades ago (e.g., Kohler, 1929; Wertheimer, 1923/1958). In recent years, a considerable amount of research has examined the development of the use of these rules. This research suggests that some of these rules, such as luminance similarity, connectedness, common movement, and continuity, are operational early in life (e.g., Farroni, Valenza, Simion, & Umiltà, 2000; Hayden, Bhatt, & Quinn, 2006; Johnson, 2000; Needham, Baillargeon, & Kaufman, 1997; Quinn & Bhatt, 2005a; Quinn, Brown, & Streppa, 1997; Quinn, Burke, & Rush, 1993). In contrast, the use of other rules, such as shape similarity, may not be as robust early in life and may take longer to develop (e.g., Craton, 1996; Quinn & Bhatt, 2005b, 2006; Quinn, Bhatt, Brush, Grimes, & Sharpnack, 2002).

Bhatt, Hayden, and Quinn (2007) examined the development of the use of common region as an organizational cue. The common region principle states that, all else being equal, elements that are within a region are grouped together and separated from those in other regions. Palmer (1992), who proposed this principle, further suggested that this region-based grouping is a fundamental organizational phenomenon, because it affects other critical perceptual functions, such as figure-ground segregation, binding of features within objects, and object segregation.

Bhatt et al. (2007) found that infants as young as 3-4 months of age utilize common region to group stimulus elements. In that study, infants habituated to pairs of shapes in different regions subsequently discriminated novel groupings of these shapes from familiar groupings. Moreover, they discriminated novel groupings even when tested with novel regions, thereby indicating that organization based on common region is robust in infants and transcends the particular regions that engender the original grouping.

In the present study, we examined whether 3- to 4-month-olds group and generalize grouping on the basis of illusory regions. Palmer (1992) defined a common region as "a connected, homogeneously colored or textured region or ... an enclosing contour" (p. 438). However, he also suggested that grouping can be induced even by regions that are only illusory-that is, in the absence of explicit enclosing contours.

Grouping on the basis of illusory regions is important in that regions in the real world are often not clearly specified. …

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