Forest before trees: The precedence of global features in visual perception

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The idea that global structuring of a visual scene precedes analysis of local features is suggested, discussed, and tested. In the first two experiments subjects were asked to respond to an auditorily presented name of a letter while looking at a visual stimulus that consisted of a large character (the global level) made out of small characters (the local level). The subjects' auditory discrimination responses were subject to interference only by the global level and not by the local one. In Experiment 3 subjects were presented with large characters made out of small ones, and they had to recognize either just the large characters or just the small ones. Whereas the identity of the small characters had no effect on recognition of the large ones, global cues which conflicted with the local ones did inhibit the responses to the local level. In Experiment 4 subjects were asked to judge whether pairs of simple patterns of geometrical forms which were presented for a brief duration were the same or different. The patterns within a pair could differ either at the global or at the local level. It was found that global differences were detected more often than local differences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-383
Number of pages31
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1977

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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