The Role of Shape Recognition in Figure/Ground Perception in Infancy

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In this study we sought to determine whether infants, like adults, utilize previous experience to guide figure/ground processing. After familiarization to a shape, 5-month-olds preferentially attended to the side of an ambiguous figure/ground test stimulus corresponding to that shape, suggesting that they were viewing that portion as the figure. Infants’ failure to exhibit this preference in a control condition in which both sides of the test stimulus were displayed as figures indicated that the results in the experimental condition were not due to a preference between two figure shapes. These findings demonstrate for the first time that figure/ground processing in infancy is sensitive to top-down influence. Thus, a critical aspect of figure/ground processing is functional early in life.