Figure Ground

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Graduate Faculty Psychology Bulletin Volume 2, No. 2, 2004

Examining the Effect of Subliminal Priming on Ambiguous Figure Perception Misa Tsuruta, M.A.1

Abstract ~ Figure-ground organization is a kind of perceptual organization that has been studied in Gestalt psychology. Ambiguous/reversible figures can evoke two different percepts. When we see ambiguous figures, sooner or later our perceptual system determines one side that stands out as the figure, while the other side forms the ground and becomes shapeless. Subjects were subliminally trained with the half-figures of the target 1: Department of Psychology, Graduate Faculty, New School University, New York, USA An extended version of this paper served as partial fullfillment for the requirements of Research Methods at New School University Acknowledgments: I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Arien Mack for her patient instruction on the subject of perceptual organization. Moreover, without the continuous help of Zissis Pappas this project could literally not have been completed. A friendly thank you to Keiko Yashima, who created the figures used in the experiment. My last thank you goes to my husband, Masayoshi Tsuruta, who gave me a brief introduction to Gestalt psychology many years ago. Address correspondence to Misa Tsuruta, tsurm152@newschool.edu

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Effect of Subliminal Priming

ambiguous figures and then presented with the target figures. The result demonstrated above-chance level of consistency between the prime and the choice of the figure. From this result, it was concluded that subliminal priming of the figure had effects on figure-ground organization. Introduction In the investigation of visual perception, Gestalt psychologists made an indispensable contribution by asserting that perceptual processes were not simply determined by separate elements in visual stimuli (Peterson, 1999; Mack, Tang, Tuma, Kahn, & Rock, 1992). Those elements are not processed separately from each other. Rather, they are organized into particular groups in the course of perceptual processing. For instance, if there is a curved line with another line branching out, and if the branching out is too abrupt, we tend not to see the second line as continuous to the first one. On the other hand, if the branching out is smooth and continuous enough to the first line, we tend to see these two lines as continuous. This is an example of the Gestalt law of good continuation (Rock, 1975). This phenomenon of perceptual organization or perceptual grouping was clearly described by Wertheimer who, besides good continuation, proposed several laws of perceptual organization such as similarity, proximity, common fate, objective set, and past experience (Rock, 1975; Mack, Tang, Tuma, Kahn, & Rock, 1992). These laws influence how we perceive the external world. The occurrence of figure-ground organization is an aspect of perceptual organization. The mechanisms of our binocular vision enable us to translate a 2D retinal image into a 3D percept so that a part of the stimulus stands out as the figure that has a shape while other parts form the ground and appear shapeless (Peterson, 1999). For instance, in Rubin's classic vase/face figure, there are two possible interpretations: either a decorative GFPB: 2004 - Vol. 2, No. 2

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vase or two profiles facing each other. Alternations between two percepts occur, an amazing phenomenon considering the fact that there is only one fixed stimulus. Therefore, the occurrence of two interpretations or alternations can be attributed to our perceptual processes themselves. The assignment of the figure is not a random phenomenon; it is subject to certain rules. Surroundedness, symmetry, blackness, and convexity are among those rules (Rock, 1975; Peterson & Gibson, 1994; Vecera & O'Reilly, 1998; Vecara, Flevaris, & Filapek, 2004). The assignment of figure can be considered a resolution of a problem of...
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