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Journal Article

Contextual Masking of Oriented Lines: Interactions between Surface Segmentation Cues


Wehrhahn,  C
Department Physiology of Cognitive Processes, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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van der Smagt, M., Wehrhahn, C., & Albright, T. (2005). Contextual Masking of Oriented Lines: Interactions between Surface Segmentation Cues. Journal of Neurophysiology, 94(1), 576-589. doi:10.1152/jn.00366.2004.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-D505-0
The ability of human observers to detect and discriminate a single feature of a visual image deteriorates markedly when the targeted feature is surrounded by others of a similar kind. This perceptual masking is mirrored by the suppressive effects of surround stimulation on the responses of neurons in primary visual cortex (area V1). Both perceptual and neuronal masking effects are partially relieved, however, if the targeted image feature is distinguished from surrounding features along some dimension, such as contour orientation. Masking relief is likely to play an important role in perceptual segmentation of complex images. Because dissimilar surfaces usually differ along multiple feature dimensions, we tested the possibility that those differences may influence segmentation in an invariant manner. As expected, we found that the presence of surrounding features resulted in perceptual masking and neuronal response suppression in area V1, but that either orientation or contrast polarity differences between th e target and surrounding features was sufficient to partially relieve these effects. Simultaneous differences along both dimensions, however, yielded no greater relief from masking than did either difference alone. Although the averaged neuronal effects of orientation polarity cues were thus invariant, the time course over which these effects emerged after each stimulus appearance was different for the two cues. These findings refine our understanding of the functions of nonclassical receptive fields, and they support a key role for V1 neurons in surface segmentation.