Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Kevin Bennett (Committee Chair), Assaf Harel (Committee Member), Joseph Houpt (Committee Member), Jason Parker (Committee Member)

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


The perception of a visual stimulus is dependent not only upon local features, but also on the arrangement of those features. When stimulus features are perceptually well organized, a global configuration with a high degree of salience emerges from the interactions between these features, often referred to as emergent features. Emergent features can be demonstrated in the Configural Superiority Effect (CSE): presenting a stimulus within an organized context relative to its presentation in a disarranged one results in better performance. Prior neuroimaging work on the perception of emergent features regards the CSE as an "all or none" phenomenon, focusing on the contrast between configural and non-configural stimuli. However, it is still not clear how emergent features are processed between these two endpoints. The current study examined the extent to which behavioral and neuroimaging markers of emergent features are responsive to the degree of configurality in visual displays. Subjects were tasked with reporting the anomalous quadrant in a visual search task while being scanned. Degree of configurality was manipulated by incrementally varying the rotational angle of low-level features within the stimulus arrays. Behaviorally, we observed faster response times with increasing levels of configurality. These behavioral changes were accompanied by increases in response magnitude across multiple visual areas in occipito-temporal cortex, primarily early visual cortex and object-selective cortex. Our findings suggest that the neural correlates of emergent features can be observed even in response to stimuli that are not fully configural, and demonstrate that configural information is already present at early stages of the visual hierarchy.

Page Count


Department or Program

Department of Psychology

Year Degree Awarded