Experimental Brain Research vol:186 issue:1 pages:107-122
Perceptual grouping is a multi-stage process, irreducible to a single mechanism localized anatomically or chronometrically. To understand how various grouping mechanisms interact, we combined a phenomenological report paradigm with high-density event-related potential (ERP) measurements, using a 256-channel electrode array. We varied the relative salience of competing perceptual organizations in multi-stable dot lattices and asked observers to report perceived groupings. The ability to discriminate groupings (the grouping sensitivity) was positively correlated with the amplitude of the earliest ERP peak C1 (about 60 ms after stimulus onset) over the middle occipital area. This early activity is believed to reflect spontaneous feed-forward processes preceding perceptual awareness. Grouping sensitivity was negatively correlated with the amplitude of the next peak P1 (about 110 ms), which is believed to reflect lateral and feedback interactions associated with perceptual awareness and attention. This dissociation between C1 and P1 activity implies that the recruitment of fast, spontaneous mechanisms for grouping leads to high grouping sensitivity. Observers who fail to recruit these mechanisms are trying to compensate by using later mechanisms, which depend less on stimulus properties such as proximity.