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Title: Recognition memory for visual figures versus grounds
Author: Blank, M. J.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2001
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The phenomenal distinction between figure and ground has been fundamental to perceptual psychology ever since the work of the Gestalt psychologist, Edgar Rubin (1915). Yet surprisingly little research has been done on objective differences between processing of figures and their attributing grounds. It is often claimed that while long-term recognition memory for figures can be good, it is apparently non-existent for grounds, even though the two share the same defining contour. A critical examination of studies on which such claims were based reveals a number of potential flaws. The observed figural advantage might have been due to demand characteristics in the classic experiments. This dissertation re-examines recognition memory for figures versus grounds, attempting to remove previous sources of bias. New experiments found that while figures were recognised better than grounds after incidental learning, memory for grounds was still significantly above chance, at odds with traditional claims. It was found that recognition responses to grounds could be greatly reduced, although still remaining above chance, by changing experimental instructions. This suggests that subjects' performance depends on their interpretation of the task, which might have confounded Rubin's original studies. Although a true figural advantage remains, grounds are remembered at above-chance levels, raising the question of how memory for them is achieved. Possibilities include reversals of the figure-ground stimuli at exposure or at test; memory for the grounds; memory for the dividing contours; and generalisation from memory for the figures. A series of experiments assessed these possibilities and suggested that the last of them is the most likely. When particular figures and grounds were defined not just by their common dividing contours, but also by the rest of their shapes (i.e. not at the common contours), results indicate that the rest of the shape is remembered only for figures. This suggests that while figures are processed and remembered on the basis of their abstract shapes, no such shape processing may take place for grounds.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available