Perceptual organization without perception. The subliminal learning of global contour.
Rosenthal O., Humphreys GW.
A critical step in visual perceptual processing is integrating local visual elements into contours so that shapes can be derived from them. It is often assumed that contour integration may reflect hardwired coding of low-level visual features. In this study, we present novel evidence indicating that integration of local elements into contours can be learned subliminally, despite being irrelevant to the training task and despite the local properties of the display varying randomly during training. Learning occurred only when contours were consistently paired with task-relevant targets--echoing the findings of previous studies on subliminal learning of low-level features. Our data indicate that task-irrelevant, exposure-based learning extends beyond local low-level visual features and may play a critical role at multiple levels of visual perceptual organization.