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Inter-element orientation and distance influence the duration of persistent contour integration
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Contour integration is a fundamental form of perceptual organization. We introduce a new method of studying the mechanisms responsible for contour integration. This method capitalizes on the perceptual persistence of contours under conditions of impending camouflage. Observers viewed arrays of randomly arranged line segments upon which circular contours comprised of similar line segments were superimposed via abrupt onset. Crucially, these contours remained visible for up to a few seconds following onset, but eventually disappeared due to the camouflaging effects of surrounding background line segments. Our main finding was that the duration of contour visibility depended on the distance and degree of co-alignment between adjacent contour segments such that relatively dense smooth contours persisted longest. The stimulus-related effects reported here parallel similar results from contour detection studies, and complement previous reported top-down influences on contour persistence (Strother et al., 2011). We propose that persistent contour visibility reflects the sustained activity of recurrent processing loops within and between visual cortical areas involved in contour integration and other important stages of visual object recognition.