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We present evidence for a new figure-ground cue: top-bottom polarity. In an explicit reporting task, participants were more likely to interpret stimuli with a wide base and a narrow top as a figure. A similar advantage for wide-based stimuli also occurred in a visual short-term memory task, where the stimuli had ambiguous figure-ground relations. Further support comes from a figural search task. Figural search is a discrimination task in which participants are set to search for a symmetric target in a display with ambiguous figure-ground organization. We show that figural search was easier when stimuli with a top-bottom polarity were placed in an orientation where they had a wide base and a narrow top, relative to when this orientation was inverted. This polarity effect was present when participants were set to use color to parse figure from ground, and it was magnified when the participants did not have any foreknowledge of the color of the symmetric target. Taken together the results suggest that top-bottom polarity influences figure-ground assignment, with wide base stimuli being preferred as a figure. In addition, the figural search task can serve as a useful procedure to examine figure-ground assignment.

Original publication




Journal article


Vision Res

Publication Date





2779 - 2791


Adult, Color Perception, Cues, Discrimination, Psychological, Female, Field Dependence-Independence, Humans, Male, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Photic Stimulation, Psychophysics