PublicationsContextual effects on perceived contrast
Figure-ground segregation is an important step in the path leading to object recognition. The visual system segregates objects (‘figures’) in the visual scene from their backgrounds (‘ground’). Electrophysiological studies in awake-behaving monkeys have demonstrated that neurons in early visual areas increase their firing rate when responding to a figure compared to responding to the background. We hypothesized that similar changes in neural firing would take place in early visual areas of the human visual system, leading to changes in the perception of low-level visual features. In this study, we investigated whether contrast perception is affected by figure-ground assignment using stimuli similar to those in the electrophysiological studies in monkeys. We measured contrast discrimination thresholds and perceived contrast for Gabor probes placed on figures or the background and found that the perceived contrast of the probe was increased when it was placed on a figure. Furthermore, we tested how this effect compared with the well-known effect of orientation contrast on perceived contrast. We found that figure-ground assignment and orientation contrast produced changes in perceived contrast of a similar magnitude, and that they interacted. Our results demonstrate that figure-ground assignment influences perceived contrast, consistent with an effect of figure-ground assignment on activity in early visual areas of the human visual system.