Semantic access occurs outside of awareness for the ground side of a figure

Laura Cacciamani, Andrew J. Mojica, Joseph L. Sanguinetti, Mary A. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Traditional theories of vision assume that figures and grounds are assigned early in processing, with semantics being accessed later and only by figures, not by grounds. We tested this assumption by showing observers novel silhouettes with borders that suggested familiar objects on their ground side. The ground appeared shapeless near the figure’s borders; the familiar objects suggested there were not consciously perceived. Participants’ task was to categorize words shown immediately after the silhouettes as naming natural versus artificial objects. The words named objects from the same or from a different superordinate category as the familiar objects suggested in the silhouette ground. In Experiment 1, participants categorized words faster when they followed silhouettes suggesting upright familiar objects from the same rather than a different category on their ground sides, whereas no category differences were observed for inverted silhouettes. This is the first study to show unequivocally that, contrary to traditional assumptions, semantics are accessed for objects that might be perceived on the side of a border that will ultimately be perceived as a shapeless ground. Moreover, although the competition for figural status results in suppression of the shape of the losing contender, its semantics are not suppressed. In Experiment 2, we used longer silhouette-to-word stimulus onset asynchronies to test whether semantics would be suppressed later in time, as might occur if semantics were accessed later than shape memories. No evidence of semantic suppression was observed; indeed, semantic activation of the objects suggested on the ground side of a border appeared to be short-lived. Implications for feedforward versus dynamical interactive theories of object perception are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2531-2547
Number of pages17
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Volume76
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Figure-ground segregation
  • Object perception
  • Perceptual organization
  • Semantic priming
  • Visual awareness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language

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