From local to global processing: The development of illusory contour perception

Kritika Nayar, John Franchak, Karen Adolph, Lynne Kiorpes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Global visual processing is important for segmenting scenes, extracting form from background, and recognizing objects. Local processing involves attention to the local elements, contrast, and boundaries of an image at the expense of extracting a global percept. Previous work is inconclusive regarding the relative development of local and global processing. Some studies suggest that global perception is already present by 8. months of age, whereas others suggest that the ability arises during childhood and continues to develop during adolescence. We used a novel method to assess the development of global processing in 3- to 10-year-old children and an adult comparison group. We used Kanizsa illusory contours as an assay of global perception and measured responses on a touch-sensitive screen while monitoring eye position with a head-mounted eye tracker. Participants were tested using a similarity match-to-sample paradigm. Using converging measures, we found a clear developmental progression with age such that the youngest children performed near chance on the illusory contour discrimination, whereas 7- and 8-year-olds performed nearly perfectly, as did adults. There was clear evidence of a gradual shift from a local processing strategy to a global one; young children looked predominantly at and touched the "pacman" inducers of the illusory form, whereas older children and adults looked predominantly at and touched the middle of the form. These data show a prolonged developmental trajectory in appreciation of global form, with a transition from local to global visual processing between 4 and 7. years of age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-55
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Eye tracking
  • Global form perception
  • Global processing
  • Kanizsa illusory contours
  • Match-to-sample
  • Perceptual development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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