Past trials influence perception of ambiguous motion quartets through pattern completion

L. T. Maloney, M. F. Dal Martello, C. Sahm, L. Spillmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There are many celebrated examples of ambiguous perceptual configurations such as the Necker cube that abruptly and repeatedly "switch" among possible perceptual states. When such ambiguous configurations are presented intermittently, observers tend to see the same perceptual state on successive trials. The outcome of each trial apparently serves to "prime" the outcome of the following. We sought to determine how long the influence of a past trial persists by using ambiguous motion quartets as stimuli. We found large, significant effects of all four most recent trials, but the results were not consistent with any priming model. The results could be explained instead as perceptual completion of two kinds of temporal patterns, repeating and alternating. We conclude that the visual system does not passively remember perceptual state: it analyzes recent perceptual history and attempts to predict what will come next. These predictions can alter what is seen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3164-3169
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 22 2005


  • Ambiguous figures
  • Apparent motion
  • Hysteresis
  • Priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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