Boundary completion in illusory contours: interpolation or extrapolation?

Perception. 2003;32(8):985-99. doi: 10.1068/p3420.


Most computational and neural-style models of contour completion (ie illusory and occluded contours) are based on interpolation: the filling in of an edge between two visible edges. The results of three experiments suggest an alternative conception, that units are formed as a result of extrapolation from visible edges. In three experiments, subjects reported illusory contours between standard illusory-contour inducing elements and forms that do not, by themselves, induce illusory contours. We suggest that these forms are not a special case of inducing elements but that they represent a different class--receiving elements. Receiving elements are forms that can receive an illusory contour but cannot generate one, and they can alter contour formation. In experiment 1, receiving elements increased the judged clarity of illusory contours. In experiment 2, illusory edges were seen to connect to corners, line ends, and even the edges of circles. Boundary formation in motion displays also appears to be based on extrapolation. In experiment 3, subjects reported that small moving dots altered the formation of spatiotemporally defined boundaries. Implications for higher-order operator and network models of boundary formation are discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Judgment
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motion Perception / physiology
  • Psychological Tests
  • Visual Perception / physiology*