The watercolor effect: a new principle of grouping and figure-ground organization

Vision Res. 2003 Jan;43(1):43-52. doi: 10.1016/s0042-6989(02)00132-3.


The watercolor effect is perceived when a dark (e.g., purple) contour is flanked by a lighter chromatic contour (e.g., orange). Under these conditions, the lighter color will assimilate over the entire enclosed area. This filling-in determines figure-ground organization when it is pitted against the classical Gestalt factors of proximity, good continuation, closure, symmetry, convexity, as well as amodal completion, and past experience. When it is combined with a given Gestalt factor, the resulting effect on figure-ground organization is stronger than for each factor alone. When the watercolor effect is induced by a dark red edge instead of an orange edge, its figural strength is reduced, but still stronger than without it. Finally, when a uniform surface is filled physically using the color of the orange fringe, figure-ground organization is not different from that for the purple contour only. These findings show that the watercolor effect induced by the edge could be an independent factor, different from the classical Gestalt factors of figure-ground organization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Color Perception*
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Humans
  • Optical Illusions*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Perceptual Closure*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychophysics