Globally inconsistent figure/ground relations induced by a negative part

Sung Ho Kim, Jacob Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Figure/ground interpretation is a dynamic and complex process involving the cooperation and competition of a number of perceptual factors. Most research has assumed that figure/ground assignment is globally consistent along the entire contour of a single figure, meaning that the one side of each boundary is interpreted as figure along the entire length of the boundary, and the other side interpreted as ground. We investigated a situation that challenges this assumption, because local cues to figure/ground conflict with global cues: a "negative part," a contour region that appears locally convex but that the global form requires be concave. To measure figure/ground assignment, we use a new task based on local contour motion attribution that allows us to measure border ownership locally at points along the contour. The results from two experiments showed that the more salient a negative part is, the more border ownership tended to locally reverse within it, creating an inconsistency in figure/ground assignments along the contour. This suggests that border ownership assignment is not an all-or-none process, but rather a locally autonomous process that is not strictly constrained by global cues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number10
StatePublished - 10 Sep 2009


  • Border ownership
  • Contour curvature
  • Figure/ground
  • Negative parts
  • Surface representation


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