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Global and local precedence: selective attention in form and motion perception.

  • Pomerantz, J R
Published Article
Journal of Experimental Psychology
American Psychological Association
Publication Date
Dec 01, 1983
PMID: 6229597


This study explores the perception of stimuli at two levels: local parts and the wholes that comprise these parts. Previous research has produced contradictory results. Some studies (e.g., Pomerantz & Sager, 1975) show local precedence, in which the local parts are more difficult to ignore in selective attention tasks. Other studies (e.g., Navon, 1977) have shown the opposite effect, global precedence. The present five experiments trace the causes of this discrepancy by exploring the effects of the relative discriminabilities of the local and global levels of the stimuli and the differences between two different measures of selective attention, namely, Stroop-type interference (attributable to incongruity on the irrelevant dimension) and Garner-type interference (attributable to variability on the irrelevant dimension). The experiments also examine whether the precedence effects previously examined in form perception generalize to motion perception. The results show that (a) some cases of global precedence are due solely to the greater perceptual discriminability of the global level and thus demonstrate only that more discriminable stimuli are harder to ignore; (b) instances of both local and global precedence can be demonstrated for certain types of stimuli, even when the discriminabilities of their local and global levels have been equated; and (c) the Stroop and Garner measures of selective attention are not equivalent but instead measure different types of interference. In addition, a distinction is made between two fundamentally different types of part-whole relationships that exist in visual configurations, one based only on the positions of the parts (Type P) and one based also on the nature of the parts (Type N). Previous research has focused on Type P, which appears to be irrelevant to the broader questions of Gestalt and top-down effects in perception. It is concluded that bona fide cases of both local and global precedence have been amply documented but that no general theory can account for why or when these effects will appear until we better understand both the nature of part-whole relationships and the perceptual processes that are tapped by different measures of selective attention.

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