The effort to close the gap: Tracking the development of illusory contour processing from childhood to adulthood with high-density electrical mapping

Ted S. Altschuler, Sophie Molholm, John S. Butler, Manuel R. Mercier, Alice B. Brandwein, John J. Foxe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


The adult human visual system can efficiently fill-in missing object boundaries when low-level information from the retina is incomplete, but little is known about how these processes develop across childhood. A decade of visual-evoked potential (VEP) studies has produced a theoretical model identifying distinct phases of contour completion in adults. The first, termed a perceptual phase, occurs from approximately 100-200. ms and is associated with automatic boundary completion. The second is termed a conceptual phase occurring between 230 and 400. ms. The latter has been associated with the analysis of ambiguous objects which seem to require more effort to complete. The electrophysiological markers of these phases have both been localized to the lateral occipital complex, a cluster of ventral visual stream brain regions associated with object-processing. We presented Kanizsa-type illusory contour stimuli, often used for exploring contour completion processes, to neurotypical persons ages 6-31 (N. = 63), while parametrically varying the spatial extent of these induced contours, in order to better understand how filling-in processes develop across childhood and adolescence. Our results suggest that, while adults complete contour boundaries in a single discrete period during the automatic perceptual phase, children display an immature response pattern-engaging in more protracted processing across both timeframes and appearing to recruit more widely distributed regions which resemble those evoked during adult processing of higher-order ambiguous figures. However, children older than 5. years of age were remarkably like adults in that the effects of contour processing were invariant to manipulation of contour extent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)360-373
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Apr 15 2014


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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