Figure-ground interaction in the human visual cortex

J Vis. 2008 Jul 18;8(9):8.1-19. doi: 10.1167/8.9.8.


Discontinuities in feature maps serve as important cues for the location of object boundaries. Here we used multi-input nonlinear analysis methods and EEG source imaging to assess the role of several different boundary cues in visual scene segmentation. Synthetic figure/ground displays portraying a circular figure region were defined solely by differences in the temporal frequency of the figure and background regions in the limiting case and by the addition of orientation or relative alignment cues in other cases. The use of distinct temporal frequencies made it possible to separately record responses arising from each region and to characterize the nature of nonlinear interactions between the two regions as measured in a set of retinotopically and functionally defined cortical areas. Figure/background interactions were prominent in retinotopic areas, and in an extra-striate region lying dorsal and anterior to area MT+. Figure/background interaction was greatly diminished by the elimination of orientation cues, the introduction of small gaps between the two regions, or by the presence of a constant second-order border between regions. Nonlinear figure/background interactions therefore carry spatially precise, time-locked information about the continuity/discontinuity of oriented texture fields. This information is widely distributed throughout occipital areas, including areas that do not display strong retinotopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Retina / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*