The structure of illusory conjunctions reveals hierarchical binding of multipart objects

Edward Vul*, Cory A. Rieth, Timothy F. Lew, Anina N. Rich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


The world around us is filled with complex objects, full of color, motion, shape, and texture, and these features seem to be represented separately in the early visual system. Anne Treisman pointed out that binding these separate features together into coherent conscious percepts is a serious challenge, and she argued that selective attention plays a critical role in this process. Treisman also showed that, consistent with this view, outside the focus of attention we suffer from illusory conjunctions: misperceived pairings of features into objects. Here we used Treisman’s logic to study the structure of pre-attentive representations of multipart, multicolor objects, by exploring the patterns of illusory conjunctions that arise outside the focus of attention. We found consistent evidence of some pre-attentive binding of colors to their parts, and weaker evidence of binding multiple colors of the same object. The extent to which such hierarchical binding occurs seems to depend on the geometric structure of multipart objects: Objects whose parts are easier to separate seem to exhibit greater pre-attentive binding. Together, these results suggest that representations outside the focus of attention are not entirely a “shapeless bundles of features,” but preserve some meaningful object structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550–563
Number of pages14
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number2
Early online date24 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • attention
  • binding
  • Feature Integration Theory


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