The role of part structure in the perceptual localization of a shape
Kristina Denisova, Manish Singh, and Eileen Kowler
Perception, 35, 1073-1087 (2006)


The process of object localization may be accomplished with respect to a particular reference location, such as the center of gravity, COG (e.g., Vishwanath and Kowler, 2003). Here, we investigated how part structure affects an object's reference location. The reference location was evaluated with a measure of the illusory displacement of an internal target element embedded within a larger object (Morgan et al, 1990). To examine whether the reference location is different for shapes with part structure, two shapes were tested: circle (small and large; no part structure) and bell (shape with two parts, one larger than the other). Results were examined with respect to two predictions: either the location of an object is based on its shape as a whole, disregarding part structure (i.e., a single, overall COG), or the parts are processed separately (different COGs). With the circles, the results showed a systematic illusory displacement of the internal target toward the COG. With the bell, the illusion was significantly weaker than with both circles---even though the main part of the bell had the same size as the small circle, and its horizontal axis had the same extent as the large circle. Moreover, the distance judgments for the bell were consistent with a (weaker) reference point being located at the COG of the larger part, rather than at the COG of the entire bell. These results show that the part structure of a shape plays a role in the representation of its location, and that for complex shapes the perceived location of an embedded element depends more on the parts within which it is embedded, rather than on the whole shape.