Synchronous Change and Perception of Object Unity: Evidence from Adults and Infants

Cognition 71 (3):257-88 (1999)
Adults and infants display a robust ability to perceive the unity of a center-occluded object when the visible ends of the object undergo common motion (e.g. Kellman, P.J., Spelke, E.S., 1983. Perception of partly occluded objects in infancy. Cognitive Psychology 15, 483±524). Ecologically oriented accounts of this ability focus on the primacy of motion in the perception of segregated objects, but Gestalt theory suggests a broader possibility: observers may perceive object unity by detecting patterns of synchronous change, of which common motion is a special case. We investigated this possibility with observations of adults and 4-month-old infants. Participants viewed a center-occluded object whose visible surfaces were either misaligned or aligned, stationary or moving, and unchanging or synchronously changing in color or bright- ness in various temporal patterns (e.g. ¯ashing). Both alignment and common motion con- tributed to adults' perception of object unity, but synchronous color changes did not. For infants, motion was an important determinant of object unity, but other synchronous changes and edge alignment were not. When a stationary object with aligned edges underwent syn- chronous changes in color or brightness, infants showed high levels of attention to the object, but their perception of its unity appeared to be indeterminate. An inherent preference for fast over slow ¯ash rates, and a novelty preference elicited by a change in rate, both indicated that infants detected the synchronous changes, although they failed to use them as information for object unity. These ®ndings favor ecologically oriented accounts of object perception in which surface motion plays a privileged role. Ó 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved
Keywords Adults   Age Differences   Color   Infants   Motion   Perceptual Development   Theories   Visual Perception
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DOI 10.1016/S0010-0277(99)00026-8
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Kurt Koffka (1936). Principles of Gestalt Psychology. Philosophical Review 45 (4):412-415.

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