The effects of the contrast polarity of dot-pair partners on the detection of bilateral symmetry

Peter Wenderoth*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    42 Citations (Scopus)


    Detection of vertical bilateral symmetry has previously been studied in patterns composed of black or white dots on a grey background under four conditions: (a) same contrast (black or white) for all dots (called BB or WW, for 'all black or all white'); (b) half of the dots black and half white with positive correspondence between symmetrical dot pairs (called MA for 'matched'); (c) half of the dots black and half white with negative correspondence between symmetrical dot pairs (called OPP for 'opposite'); and (d) black (white) dots on one side of the axis and white (black) dots on the other (called BW for 'one side black the other white'). It was found that performance was ordered BB (or WW) = MA > OPP =BW, where > indicates better performance. That experiment was repeated here in experiment 1 with symmetry axes not only at vertical but also at horizontal and the two diagonals. It was found overall that BB = MA > OPP, BW. However, OPP > BW when random trials were included in the analysis but when they were excluded BW > OPP. This was due to a very high false-alarm rate in condition BW which could be accounted for if grouping by colour occurs prior to symmetry detection. In experiment 2 it was shown that vertical-symmetry salience over other orientations remained about the same as OPP patterns progressively changed into BB patterns by varying the percentage same polarity between 0% and 100% in 12%-13% steps. Thus, dot-pair polarity affects performance without affecting relative axis salience, as was also found recently when dot pattern outlines were masked. All of the data indicate that although opposite dot polarity does reduce performance slightly, the symmetry-detection mechanism is remarkably resilient to such perturbation. The high false-alarm rate in the BW condition of experiment 1 may be accounted for by extremely salient global grouping of dots by luminance which effectively creates an integral stimulus which is perceptually difficult to break down into its component dot pairs, prohibiting the required point-by-point matching necessary to reject symmetry detection. The small detrimental effect of nonmatched polarity might be due to the polarity differences masking the grouping of dots into 'clumps' on either side of the axis, a process for which there is a great deal of independent evidence.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)757-772
    Number of pages16
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 1996


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