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Curr Biol. 2000 Jun 1;10(11):663-6.

Deriving behavioural receptive fields for visually completed contours.

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Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada.


The visual system is constantly faced with the problem of identifying partially occluded objects from incomplete images cast on the retinae. Phenomenologically, the visual system seems to fill in missing information by interpolating illusory and occluded contours at points of occlusion, so that we perceive complete objects. Previous behavioural [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] and physiological [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] studies suggest that the visual system treats illusory and occluded contours like luminance-defined contours in many respects. None of these studies has, however, directly shown that illusory and occluded contours are actually used to perform perceptual tasks. Here, we use a response-classification technique [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] to answer this question directly. This technique provides pictorial representations - 'classification images' - that show which parts of a stimulus observers use to make perceptual decisions, effectively deriving behavioural receptive fields. Here we show that illusory and occluded contours appear in observers' classification images, providing the first direct evidence that observers use perceptually interpolated contours to recognize objects. These results offer a compelling demonstration of how visual processing acts on completed representations, and illustrate a powerful new technique for constraining models of visual completion.

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