Abstract In three experiments, the effect of additional “contextual” elements on the discrimination of the orientation of linear and curvilinear segments was investigated with 4-month-old infants. In Experiment 1, paired visual matrices (one which contained some irregularity in orientation of internal elements, vs one which contained no irregularities) were presented. Infants detected irregular matrices significantly better than chance, but such detection was not aided by contextual elements. Discrimination of orientation in Experiment 2 was assessed with a paired-comparison familiarization-novelty paradigm. It was found that the addition of elements here significantly aided discrimination of linear segment orientation, but not curvilinear segment orientation. Experiment 3 investigated why this effect was not found for curvilinear segments; after equating the curvilinear stimuli to linear ones used in Experiment 2 with respect to the closedness of figure, discrimination of curvilinear orientation was observed.