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Distinct effects of contour smoothness and observer bias on visual persistence
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Stable object perception relies on persistent yet temporary neural representations under constantly fluctuating stimulus conditions. The mechanisms by which such representations are formed and maintained are not fully understood but presumably involve interplay between early and higher tier visual cortical mechanisms. Some neurophysiological models of feature binding in early visual cortex predict persistent contour perception under certain stimulus conditions. Here we show that the duration of contour persistence reflects the persistent operation of visual mechanisms sensitive to contour smoothness, which also influences contour visibility more generally under highly camouflaging stimulus conditions. We distinguish the effect of contour smoothness on contour persistence from observer bias, which also contributes to the surprisingly long duration of contour persistence. We conclude that the strong modulatory effects of contour smoothness on persistence are due to the sustained reverberation of local and global contour-binding mechanisms in visual cortex, which form an important basis of perceptual continuity and stable object perception.