The perception of hierarchical structure

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Visual objects are characterized by a hierarchical structure of parts and wholes. The perceptual relations between wholes and parts, however, have been a controversial issue. This chapter focuses on two modern attempts to grapple with this issue: global precedence and the primacy of holistic properties. I review findings demonstrating the boundary conditions of the global advantage effect, its source and its brain localization, and findings concerning the microgenesis and ontogenesis of the perception of hierarchical structure and the role of grouping and individuation processes in its processing. I present a distinction between global versus local properties in terms of relative size and levels of representation in a hierarchical context and between holistic/configural versus simple/component properties. I review empirical evidence for this distinction and for the primacy of holistic properties. In closing, I discuss the implications of the empirical evidence for understanding the perception of wholes and their parts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Perceptual Organization
EditorsJ. Wagemans
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)
ISBN (Print)0199686858, 9780199686858
StatePublished - 2015

Publication series

NameOxford Library of Psychology
PublisherOxford University Press


  • cognitive psychology
  • global precedence
  • grouping and individuation processes
  • Hierarchical structure
  • holistic processing
  • holistic properties
  • part-whole perception
  • psychology


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