How object-specific are object files? Evidence for integration by location

Wessel O van Dam, Bernhard Hommel
Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance 2010, 36 (5): 1184-92
Given the distributed representation of visual features in the human brain, binding mechanisms are necessary to integrate visual information about the same perceptual event. It has been assumed that feature codes are bound into object files--pointers to the neural codes of the features of a given event. The present study investigated the perceptual criteria underlying integration into an object file. Previous studies confounded the sharing of spatial location with belongingness to the same perceptual object, 2 factors we tried to disentangle. Our findings suggest that orientation and color features appearing in a task-irrelevant preview display were integrated irrespective of whether they appeared as part of the same object or of different objects (e.g., 1 stationary and the other moving continuously, or a banana in a particular orientation overlaying an apple of a particular color). In contrast, integration was markedly reduced when the 2 objects were separated in space. Taken together, these findings suggest that spatial overlap of visual features is a sufficient criterion for integrating them into the same object file.

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