Perceptual grouping is the process through which the perceptual system combines local stimuli into a more global perceptual unit. Previous studies have shown attention to be a modulatory factor for perceptual grouping. However, these studies mainly used explicit measurements, and, thus, whether attention can modulate perceptual grouping without awareness is still relatively unexplored. To clarify the relationship between attention and perceptual grouping, the present study aims to explore how attention interacts with perceptual grouping without awareness. The task was to judge the relative lengths of two centrally presented horizontal bars while a railway-shaped pattern defined by color similarity was presented in the background. Although the observers were unaware of the railway-shaped pattern, their line-length judgment was biased by that pattern, which induced a Ponzo illusion, indicating grouping without awareness. More importantly, an attentional modulatory effect without awareness was manifested as evident by the observer’s performance being more often biased when the railway-shaped pattern was formed by an attended color than when it was formed by an unattended one. Also, the attentional modulation effect was shown to be dynamic, being more pronounced with a short presentation time than a longer one. The results of the present study not only clarify the relationship between attention and perceptual grouping but also further contribute to our understanding of attention and awareness by corroborating the dissociation between attention and awareness.
- Divided attention and inattention
- Perceptual organization
- Visual awareness