Kanizsa subjective figures capture visual spatial attention: Evidence from electrophysiological and behavioral data

Daniel Senkowski, Stefan Röttger, Sabine Grimm, John J. Foxe, Christoph S. Herrmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Figural binding and attention are two important processes that help to perceive the outside world. Binding is necessary to link together the different features of single objects which are represented in a distributed fashion in the brain. Attention serves to focus onto a small subset of incoming information. It is still not clear how exactly these two mechanisms operate and interact. We performed two experiments employing illusory Kanizsa figures (KFs) to investigate the temporal order of figural binding and spatial attention. In a visual search task, subjects had to detect the presence of a KF among distractor stimuli. We found only a slight increase of reaction times when increasing the number of distractors, indicating that KFs popped out and drew the perceiver's attention. In a further event-related potential (ERP) study, we used displays of the search task as non-informative cue for a subsequent target choice-reaction task. Enhanced contralateral negative amplitudes (starting at about 230 ms) over ventral occipital areas were found for cue displays which included a KF. For target stimuli, faster reaction times and enhanced ipsilateral N1 amplitudes over occipito-parietal areas were observed for validly (target presentation inside a KF) as compared to invalidly cued targets (target presentation outside a KF). Furthermore, enhanced contralateral N1 amplitudes were found for invalidly cued targets. It might be that interactions between perceptual closure processing of the ventral pathway and spatial target processing of the dorsal pathway contributed to the present result. We conclude that KFs automatically capture spatial attention when used as visual cues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)872-886
Number of pages15
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2005


  • Binding
  • ERP
  • Illusory contours
  • N1
  • Selective attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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