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Phenomena of illusory form: can we bridge the gap between levels of explanation?

Phenomena of illusory form: can we bridge the gap between levels of explanation?

Perception 24(11): 1333-1364

The study of illusory brightness and contour phenomena has become an important tool in modern brain research. Gestalt, cognitive, neural, and computational approaches are reviewed and their explanatory powers are discussed in the light of empirical data. Two well-known phenomena of illusory form are dealt with, the Ehrenstein illusion and the Kanizsa triangle. It is argued that the gap between the different levels of explanation, bottom-up versus top-down, creates scientific barriers which have all too often engendered unnecessary debate about who is right and who is wrong. In this review of the literature we favour an integrative approach to the question of how illusory form is derived from stimulus configuration which provide the visual system with seemingly incomplete information. The processes that can explain the emergence of these phenomena range from local feature detection to global strategies of perceptual organisation. These processes may be similar to those that help us restore partially occluded objects in everyday vision. To understand better the Ehrenstein and Kanizsa illusions, it is proposed that different levels of analysis and explanation are not mutually exclusive, but complementary. Theories of illusory contour and form perception must, therefore, take into account the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms and their possible interactions with cognitive and attentional processes.

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Accession: 046973339

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PMID: 8643336

DOI: 10.1068/p241333

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