The traditional view on visual processing emphasizes a hierarchy: local line segments are first linked into global contours, which in turn are assembled into more complex forms. Distinct from this bottom-up viewpoint, here we provide evidence for a theoretical framework whereby objects and their parts are processed almost concurrently in a bidirectional cortico-cortical loop. By simultaneous recordings from V1 and V4 in awake monkeys, we found that information about global contours in a cluttered background emerged initially in V4, started ∼40 ms later in V1, and continued to develop in parallel in both areas. Detailed analysis of neuronal response properties implicated contour integration to emerge from both bottom-up and reentrant processes. Our results point to an incremental integration mechanism: feedforward assembling accompanied by feedback disambiguating to define and enhance the global contours and to suppress background noise. The consequence is a parallel accumulation of contour information over multiple cortical areas.
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