Neural Signatures of the Configural Superiority Effect and Fundamental Emergent Features in Human Vision
The concepts of grouping, emergence, and superadditivity (when a whole is qualitatively different from the sum of its parts) are critical in Gestalt psychology and essential to properly understand the information processing mechanisms underlying visual perception. However, very little is known about the neural processes behind these phenomena (particularly in terms of their generality vs. specificity and their time-course). Here, we used the configural superiority effect as a way to define "emergence" and "emergent features" operationally, employing an approach that can isolate different emergent features and compare them on a common scale. By assessing well-established event related potentials in a HD-EEG system, we found that the critical processes behind configural superiority and superadditive Gestalt phenomena are present in the window between 100 and 200 ms after stimulus onset and that these effects seem to be driven by specific attentional selection mechanisms. Also, some emergent features seem to be differentially processed in different brain hemispheres. These results shed new light on the issues of the generality vs. specificity of the neural correlates of different Gestalt principles, the hemispheric asymmetries in the processing of hierarchical image structure and the role of the N1 ERP component in reflecting feature selective mechanisms.