The figure is famous: a deceptively simple line drawing that at first glance resembles a vase and, at the next, a pair of human faces in profile. When you look at this figure, your brain must rapidly decide what the various lines denote. Are they the outlines of the vase or the borders of two faces? How does your brain decide?
It does so in a fraction of a second via special nerve circuits in the brain’s visual center that automatically organize information into a "whole" even as an individual’s gaze and attention are focused on only one part, according to Johns Hopkins researchers writing in a recent issue of the journal Neuron.
"Our paper answers the century-old question of the basis of subconscious processes in visual perception, specifically, the phenomenon of figure-ground organization," said Rudiger von der Heydt, a professor in the Zanvyl Krieger Mind-Brain Institute. "Early in the 20th century, the Gestalt psychologists postulated the existence of mechanisms that process visual information automatically and independently of what we know, think or expect. Since then, there has always been the question as to whether these mechanisms actually exist. They do. Our work suggests that the system continuously organizes the whole scene, even though we usually are attending only to a small part of it."
Dennis O’Shea | EurekAlert!
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