Global visual processing in macaques studied using Kanizsa illusory shapes

Kimberly A. Feltner, Lynne Kiorpes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to extract form information from a visual scene, for object recognition or figure-ground segregation, is a fundamental visual system function. Many studies of nonhuman primates have addressed the neural mechanisms involved in global form processing, but few have sought to demonstrate this ability behaviorally. In this study, we probed global visual processing in macaque monkeys (Macaca nemestrina) using classical Kanizsa illusory shapes as an assay of global form perception. We trained three monkeys on a "similarity match-to-sample" form discrimination task, first with complete forms embedded in fields of noncontour-inducing "pacman" elements. We then tested them with classic Kanizsa illusory shapes embedded in fields of randomly oriented elements. Two of the three subjects reached our criterion performance level of 80% correct or better on four of five illusory test conditions, demonstrating clear evidence of Kanizsa illusory form perception; the third subject mastered three of five conditions. Performance limits for illusory form discrimination were obtained by manipulating support ratio and by measuring threshold for discriminating "fat" and "thin" illusory squares. Our results indicate that macaque monkeys are capable of global form processing similarly to humans and that the perceptual mechanisms for "filling-in" contour gaps exist in macaques as they do in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-138
Number of pages8
JournalVisual neuroscience
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Contour integration
  • Global form perception
  • Kanizsa illusory contours
  • Macaque monkey
  • Perceptual completion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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