What Is Figure Ground In Psychology?

What Is Figure Ground In Psychology
Updated on April 30, 2020 Diarb2008 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 Figure-ground perception refers to the tendency of the visual system to simplify a scene into the main object that we are looking at (the figure) and everything else that forms the background (or ground).

What is an example of figure-ground in psychology?

Figure-ground perception holds that we tend to separate images into figure, or object, and ground, or background. Some common examples include the famous image of the old woman and the young lady and the depiction of the white vase that can also be perceived as two faces.

What is figure-ground in simple terms?

argument – The figure-ground relationship is commonly associated with graphic design and with the psychology of visual perception: it refers to the relationship between a subject or figure and the background against which it is set and stands out (or not), how we perceive and distinguish discrete things.

My argument is that if we examine and unpack this relationship, we are taken into a fascinating field that concerns all sorts of issues to do with materiality, making and design, with how we represent and record and understand the world around us. More – given archaeology’s interest in our relationships with the material world (as archaeologists work on what remains of the past), an inspection of figure-ground relations takes us into the world of the archaeological imagination,

Include here the blurb from the blog More specifically, such an inspection prompts us to attend to the relationship and process, balancing figuration, the outlining of forms that matter to us, with what is relegated to background. I suggest we should critically question the process of establishing subject against background or filtering signal from noise.

  • We might find ways of holding onto the noise, the excess, the matter out of place, the unframed, negative space, the pre-categorized, the ineffable, the ambiguous, that which transgresses form and boundary.
  • Why? To do so simply makes for a richer experience of history and memory, of the material world we make and inhabit.

A richer empirics. allegory Allegory is an extended metaphor, when, for example, a story, image or collection stands for something else, makes a broader social or moral point, as in a parable. An allegory is thus BOTH the story and what it stands for, this AND that.

  • Consider that many early collections, cabinets of curiosity, were meant to be microcosmic, with the items in the collection standing for the order of existence, even as metonymical fragments.
  • See the abject, collection, katachresis.
  • Borders Distinguishing figure from ground involves resolving the border between figure and background, establishing lines of discontinuity.

One can then state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as figure and the other as ground, the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.

  • Edgar Rubin, Synsoplevede Figurer, 1915 See discrimination camerawork use of blur, focus, framing, the moment of the shot (decisive moment) camouflage When you can’t pick out the figure against the background.
  • See contradiction, discrimination category mistake When an environment is too noisy or formless, we might make mistakes and misidentify subject matter or messages.

Thereagain we might look to find subject matter or meaning when there is none and make a similar mistake. Zombies, doppelgängers, ghosts, and cyborgs are examples of monstrous category mistakes. See formless, the abject collection In the act of collection distinction is made between what is valued and what is not, what is to be kept and what discarded.

Collecting is a way of establishing order. Principles of collection are framing devices that organize things. See composition Figure/ground is a relationship used extensively to help artists and designers in the composition particularly of a 2D piece. In its basic sense it refers to a cognitive ability to separate elements based upon contrast, that is, dark and light, black and white.

Many times this definition is expanded from a simple perception based on contrast to include abstract (i.e. non-visual) concepts such as melody/harmony, subject/background and positive/negative space. See layout, positive-negative contradiction When the contours within a field are slight and not pronounced, ambiguity starts to creep in and the brain must begin “shaping” what it sees; it can be shown that this shaping overrides and is at a higher level than feature recognition processes that pull together images like Rubin’s face/vase.

One can think of the lower levels of cognition putting together distinct regions of the picture (each region of which makes sense in isolation), but when the brain tries to make sense of it as a whole, contradictions ensue, and patterns must be discarded. This is the key feature of many of Escher’s artworks.

Such contradiction in resolving form is also a key feature of many optical illusions: http://books.google.com/books?id=l-tHZfp8C5YC&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=jacques+jack+canadian+flag+illusion&source=web&ots=5_yke7kncg&sig=qVutzvuB1xebgfukWuXgPVisfcg#PPA41,M1 See category mistake cryptography As code is deciphered, what is hidden is unmasked, signal is established in the noise.

  1. See camouflage, epigraphy.
  2. Cyborg A cybernetic organism, hybrid living form and machine, organic tissue and artifact.
  3. The ambiguity of the cyborg and the possibility of misrecognition or of misidentification, of attributing subjectivity to a mere machine, is the connection with the puzzle or challenge to make distinction at the heart of figure/ground relationships.

Of course, we might argue against the necessity of such distinction and hold onto the ambiguity – maintaining, for example, that humanity is humanity by virtue of its dependence upon material artifacts, life itself an artifact of human sociality and culture.

  1. See category mistake.
  2. Depth Normally the brain classifies images by what surrounds what – establishing depth and relationships.
  3. If something surrounds another thing, the surrounded object is seen as figure, and the presumably further away (and hence background) object is the ground, and vice versa.
  4. This makes a kind of phenomenological sense, since if a piece of fruit is lying on the ground, one would want to pay attention to the “figure” and not the “ground”.

See visual perception, discrimination, staging discrimination A key aspects of figure/ground organization is the assignment of edges or the discrimination of borders and their effect on shape perception. Notice in Rubin’s face/vase drawing that the perceived shape depends critically on the direction in which the border (edge) between the black and white regions is assigned.

  • If the two curvy edges between the black and white regions are assigned inward then the central white region is seen as a vase shape in front of a black background.
  • No faces are perceived in this case.
  • On the other hand, if the edges are assigned outwards, then the two black profile faces are perceived on a white background and no vase shape is perceived.

See borders doors doppelgänger One’s uncanny exact double. Threatening selfhood – is this really me? See the uncanny, category mistake, cyborgs, zombies http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelganger entropy Entropy is the natural condition of increasing disorder or noise, in the absence of an imposition or order that requires energy.

  1. More broadly, entropy is a decay of distinction that comes with ruin, loss, and amnesia environmental control Environmental control may improve signal strength against noise and interference.
  2. Shielding a microphone cuts out wind noise.
  3. Harrison’s ship chronometers succeeded in maintaining their accuracy over long journeys that involved considerable changes in temperature and humidity as well as local disturbance through ship movement by careful use of different materials in manufacture and mounting.
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This counteraction of environmental variability enabled the calculation of longitude. See signal and noise, instrumentation. ephemera The (material) components of everyday life may be considered trivial and short-lived, the background against which history is played out, against which significant events and things stand out.

See garbage. epigraphy Epigraphy is the art and science of reading and deciphering inscriptions and handwriting. the quotidian becomes history See palimpsest, cryptography. excavation In the archaeological trench, sondage, or excavation, strata, features and finds are distinguished and located. Flows of silt, soil, rock, artifact fragments, organic remains can be conceived as multiplicity, excess, noise, palimpsest and the archaeological task is to establish order against ambiguity, to recognize evidence or source materials in the matrix, against a background of irrelevance.

A common cultural metaphor is to dig deep for authentic meaning. See stratigraphy figures in the landscape Landscape is a genre and ideology of aesthetic relationship with place A typical landscape literally places figures in a setting, against a (back)ground.

  • See mise-en-scène, scenography, perspective filters Devices to reduce noise and enhance signal.
  • See signal and noise, spam.
  • Forensics At the scene of crime anything could be relevant, anything could be evidence.
  • The forensic task is to distinguish evidence from irrelevancy and to establish analytic form.

what should be recorded? what is the subject? formless In the absence of adequate figure/ground signal/noise separation, a field or environment may appear uncertain, disturbed, ambiguous, too noisy, without form. See the abject. frames Putting a frame around something, creating a box, an edge is a way of helping distinguish and arrange figure and ground.

Framing devices include picture frames and windows Involve transitions such as doors and thresholds and stairways Forms such as narrative and allegory Practices such as collection, and performance buildings such as museums and theaters fungibility Fungibility is the function or condition of the breakdown of form into equivalent components capable of recombination.

Fungibility is a central component of digital media – that image is compatible with sound, with text, with moving image. phase shifts, metamorphoses from one state into another, or as noise becomes signal (“The Conversation” – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071360/ ) excess and noise – focusing upon a conversation in the noisy crowd garbage Garbage is excess – what is (no longer) needed or desired.

Background noise may be so considered as what is not needed compared with signal or message or the figured subject. gestalt The distinction of figure from ground involves higher-level cognitive pattern matching in which the overall picture (involving relationships), rather than the net effect of the individual pieces, determines its mental interpretation.

This is a principle of “gestalt”. See visual perception ghost Denying the separation of life and death, usually fleeting, evanescent, lacking stable form, ghosts share that abject lack of distinction at the heart of figure/ground relationships. See the abject, category mistake.

  • Holes and voids ichnography tracing form – tracking – ichnography See forensics.
  • Instrumentation Scientific instruments measure phenomena, delivering a metric signal related to an attribute.
  • Any such measurement device is disturbed by parasitic phenomena.
  • This may include electronic noise (ie as expressed in signal to noise ratio – SNR), but also any external event that affects the measured phenomenon — wind, vibrations, gravitational attraction of the moon, variations of temperature, variations of humidity etc, depending on what is measured and the sensitivity of the device.

It is often possible to reduce the noise by controlling the environment. Otherwise, when the characteristics of the noise are known and are different from the signal’s, it is possible to filter it or to process the signal. When the noise is a random perturbation and the signal is a constant value, it is possible to enhance the SNR by increasing the measurement time.

  1. Among other things, Francis Ford Coppola’s movie “The Conversation’ (1974) is based upon this feature of instrumentation, in particular recording sound.
  2. See signal and noise, environmental control.
  3. Integument Integument is skin – a surface that marks discontinuity, the edge or transition between figure and ground.

See interpellation, borders. interpellation interpellation of the subject – hailing the subject, emergence from anomie – recognition representation and iconography as the creation of subjectivity and objectivity recognition in the crowd multiplicity and definition interruption Establishing distinction between figure and ground may be interrupted because of lack of form, or of discontinuity, for example.

  1. In asserting the importance of the relationship, of ambiguity, of the significance of choice, interruption may be deliberate.
  2. An artist may deliberately blur distinctions, may play upon positive and negative space, may emphasize the formless ground over subject or figure.
  3. Brecht’s theatrical technique of verfremdung involved interrupting the illusion of a performance by having actors drop out of role and address the audience directly, interrupting the frame provided by “theater”, suspending an illusion of objectivity.

See frame interstices Figure/ground relationships are about distinction – making decisions about edges and borders. But edges and borders may be indistinct grey regions or zones rather than lines of discontinuity between different states edges/borders katachresis ambiguity – metaphor – katachresis – the failure of metaphor the juxtaposition of two unlike elements without a metaphorical association that would give significance to the juxtaposition involves the denial of an easy separation of figure or subject from background layout Figure-ground relationships are often associated with graphical design and layout – the arrangement of graphical elements upon a page, for example.

  1. For an application of such design rules in photography, see http://www.apogeephoto.com/mag2-6/mag2-9gestalt.shtml See composition Ma The Japanese concept of “Ma” is a useful gloss on the notion of negative space.
  2. It means “empty”, “gap”, “space”, “the space between two structural parts”.
  3. The Taoist philosopher Lao Tse wrote extensively on the concept of Ma including his poem The Uses of Not : Thirty spokes meet in the hub, but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel.

Pots are formed from clay, but the empty space between it is the essence of the pot. Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essence of the house. masks A mask is an arrangement of holes, discontinuities and voids across a surface that convey a character, selfhood, subjectivity.

  1. Masks can be a kind of second skin or integument See integument, interpellation, holes and voids.
  2. Mirrors/reflections mise-en-scène The arrangement of components See proscenium arch musical rest In music figure/ground can refer to the relationship of note/sound to interval/silence.
  3. Notoriously, John Cage’s 4’33” played on this relationship in a piece of 4 minutes 33 seconds duration that contained no notes.

The experience was not of silence, but of rests/no notes and environmental sound. The audience were directed towards ambient sound – a focus on what is normally filtered out, but which is the only ground on which music can be made. negative space The space between and around what is considered to be the subject or figure (in a graphical design).

  1. Palimpsest A superimposition and consequent tangling of lines and forms.
  2. As in a manuscript reused without erasing earlier text or graphic, there is a challenge to decode the temporal sequence of marks.
  3. Changes in a landscape may remain long after they occurred.
  4. The contemporary/simultaneous coexistence of traces of the history of a landscape offers the challenge of disentangling the palimpsest.

Palimpsest is a term usually applied to a surface, though the time depth makes of the surface a mixing or folding of time, a temporal topology. Like a horizontal stratigraphy, decoding a palimpsest is a task of discerning the points and moments of discontinuity, as an event or intervention in the land interrupts what remains of a pervious event or intervention distinguish the layers by determining discontinuity See cryptography personality A borderline or bipolar character or condition is one characterized by excessive mood swings, manic depression.

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, psychosis, bipolarity perspective the role of perspective – centering upon the eye of the observer foreshortening, blur and focus place/event architecture and place/event the empty space/place as scene of crime – Atget architecture – as a kind of stage/setting? empty spaces? Tschumi’s place/event forensic space and an archaeological sensibility of suspicion – what happened here? signal and noise – what should be recorded positive-negative Edgar Rubin’s classic optical illusion of vase/face is a paradigm of figure/ground relationships.

The key issue in the perception of one or the other figure is the edge/boundary of the two tones, positive and negative, and how it is treated. Consider this image too and how it flips between positive and negative. proscenium arch In theatre the proscenium arch is a framing device, marking the transition between audience and performance.

See scenography protean Proteos, Greek divinity of the sea, is a shapeshifter, able to change form at will, even becoming formless. In order to put Proteos to question for a route home, Odysseus, the trickster, overcame Proteos’s metamorphoses by holding firm onto the god’s indeterminate form and forcing a settlement.

Many creatures of horror are similarly protean, shifting form, slimy, without form, indeterminate, beyond stable categories or conventional understanding. See the abject, formless record and document What should be recorded in order to capture the significance of an event or experience? A choice is usually made, of medium and subject, of what constitutes data, evidence, the essential qualities of the event or experience.

  • Selection and simplification occur.
  • Figure is distinguished from ground.
  • A key question in documentation concerns indeterminacy, focus and choice.
  • Accurate looking and documentation – accuracy related to the purpose of documentation accuracy therefore related to frame of reference See forensics, collection scenography setting and components – performer, props, scenery (flats, backdrop) together with narrative, scenario, script and genre.

up stage and back stage – blocking signal and noise In information science figure/ground has an analog in the relation of signal to noise. A crucial metric is signal to noise ratio – SNR. spam Spam is unwanted/unsolicited email or comment upon an interactive website or blog.

Spam is a parasitic phenomenon that uses channels of communication and media for the purposes of a third party. Such noise may be “moderated” – through filters or community policing. See signal and noise, instrumentation, environmental control. stairways stratigraphy Stratigraphy, the layering of strata, is a relationship between surfaces and depth.

Archaeological sites are layered like the land. Recognizing surfaces and distinguishing discontinuities in a geological/archaeological matrix is crucial for understanding geology and an archaeological site. See integument, palimpsest. substance of space Figure/ground is often associated with spatial relationships.

In his 2001 book “The Art of Looking Sideways”, Alan Fletcher discusses the importance of treating “space” as a substance: Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space”. Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses.

Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form”. The Japanese have a word (Ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission. (page 370) See negative space and Ma the abject The abject is a term referring to that which is BOTH figure and ground, NEITHER subject nor object, foreground nor background, this AND that, ambiguity.

  1. In Lacanian terms the abject is the pre-symbolic, the real.
  2. The abject is that which is pre- or de-categorized.
  3. Commonly, abject phenomena are the subject of horror: creatures like zombies and vampires (neither living nor dead, undead).
  4. See category mistake, doppelgänger, formless, cyborg.
  5. Thresholds Thresholds are transitional spaces or lines of discontinuity, borders, as one moves from one state into another.

They may thus mark the limenality – sublimation – the sublime too much detail We say “too much detail” when we need to know less, discard the excess and concentrate upon the essential – meaning and/or form. See excess, garbage. visual perception Figure/ground relationships feature significantly in visual perception: the matter is how we distinguish objects from backgrounds. Mike Pearson – solo performance “From Memory” – Esgair Fraith, Wales, 1996 – foreground – Guillermo Gomez-Peña

What is figure-ground and why is it important?

What is visual figure ground? – Figure-ground perception is the ability to filter out irrelevant visual information so that you can concentrate on what matters. This enables a child to locate precise visual information in the midst of a cluttered context. For example, we use figure-ground perception when reading a flyer on a busy bulletin board.

Is figure-ground a Gestalt?

Glossary – closure organizing our perceptions into complete objects rather than as a series of parts figure-ground relationship segmenting our visual world into figure and ground Gestalt psychology field of psychology based on the idea that the whole is different from the sum of its parts good continuation (also, continuity) we are more likely to perceive continuous, smooth flowing lines rather than jagged, broken lines pattern perception ability to discriminate among different figures and shapes perceptual hypothesis educated guess used to interpret sensory information principle of closure organize perceptions into complete objects rather than as a series of parts proximity things that are close to one another tend to be grouped together similarity things that are alike tend to be grouped together

What are figure-ground problems?

There is a wide range of individual components necessary for accurate visual perception. Some of these components include:

Colour Perception: the ability to discriminate accurately between colours. The person may no longer have a sense of colour. Some people may experience vision in shades of gray. Vision may not seem as clear as before the brain injury. This may affect the ability to select matching clothes, quickly locate the correct food jars in a cupboard, detect visual clues that food that is going off, sort out correct change for a bus fare, identify that a cooker hob is hot, read maps etc. Form Constancy: the ability to recognise shapes and objects when they are presented from different angles, distances or they are of different sizes. Problems can include difficulty recognising and picking out common things/people (e.g. a cup stored upside down, a piece of clothing crumpled on the ground and difficulty identifying people from different angles). Figure Ground Perception: the ability to focus on and identify a specific item as separate from the background. It includes the ability to filter out irrelevant surrounding items. Difficulties occur when people are unable to identify objects from the surfaces they are on or from other objects which overlap them. Problems may include selecting a knife from a cluttered cutlery drawer, locating a jug on a tray with cups, picking out a shirt placed on a bed. Depth Perception: the ability to see or judge how far away something is or how much space there is between objects. Problems with depth perception might impact on a variety of everyday activities e.g. walking up and down stairs, selecting items from a shelf, parking a car. Depth perception is important for constructional ability (e.g. writing, drawing, building things) and topographical ability (i.e. finding our way around). Motion Perception: the interpretation of movement as it occurs. Perceiving movement accurately can help the person isolate items from the background and can add additional information to help in the judgement of distance. Problems with motion perception can cause difficulties with judging the speed and distance of other people walking in their environment. This may cause the person to experience anxiety and difficulties with regard to a variety of everyday activities e.g. they may be reluctant to walk in crowded places, may struggle to judge traffic speed and cross the road safely, may have difficulty playing sports, may be unable to pour liquid into a cup safely. Spatial Perception: the ability to judge the size, shape, movement and orientation of objects in space. It involves many of the above components of visual perception and the ability to integrate visual information.

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For accurate perception the separate components described above need to be integrated into a whole ‘picture’ e.g:

Blue colour + slight elongation + rectangular shape + round + black items at corners + becoming larger would be recognised as a car approaching. Large + square + soft texture + colour + on a raised, large, flat piece of furniture would be recognised as a blanket. Green + oval + small size + smooth + appearing squashable would be recognised as a grape

Visual agnosias are visual perceptual disorders causing the person to lose the ability to identify what they see even though they may be able to describe some of the predominant features. Visual agnosias may include difficulties identifying objects, faces, landmarks, colours, gestures, movement, words, drawings and may affect spatial awareness.

Is figure-ground an illusion?

types of illusions –

What Is Figure Ground In Psychology In illusion: Visual perceptual illusions The “figure-ground” illusion is commonly experienced when one gazes at the illustration of a white vase, the outline of which is created by two black profiles. At any moment, one will be able to see either the white vase (in the centre area) as “figure” or

How do you treat figure-ground?

Visual Figure Ground Activities – Being that the primary occupation of children is play, so it is through play that we address underlying skills such as figure ground. You’ll love this long list of visual activities that target a variety of areas, including visual figure ground.

  1. Playing “I Spy” or “hide-and-go-seek” with familiar objects around the house can be a great way to get their brains prepped for visual discrimination of figure ground.
  2. They will use visual attention, visual tracking, and problem solving skills to win! Reading books or engaging in other activities provided by ‘Busy Town’, ‘Where’s Waldo’, or, of course, the ‘I Spy’ series are other great places to start.

There are towns of great vision books recommendations for you that work to develop skills through reading. You can also involve younger children in these types of activities by having them sort colorful cereal into the color categories, dig through the laundry basket to find matching socks, or really, anything that makes sense in your home.

What is a great example of figure-ground ambiguity?

A classic example of ambiguous figure-ground image. The per- ception of a white vase on a black background or two black human profiles in front of a white background can exchange spontaneously.

What are the principles of figure-ground?

Principle #1: figure-ground – The figure-ground principle states that people instinctively perceive objects as either being in the foreground or the background. They either stand out prominently in the front (the figure) or recede into the back (the ground). What Is Figure Ground In Psychology Source: A Dwarf Named Warren In the image above, for example, your eye instantly sees a white apple sitting on a black background. This determination will occur quickly and subconsciously in most cases. Figure/Ground lets us know what we should be focusing on and what we can safely ignore in a composition.

What is figure and ground also called?

A person’s ability to separate an object from its surrounding visual field is referred to as figure-ground perception. The object that a person focuses on is called the figure; everything else is referred to as background, or simply ground.

Is figure-ground the same as depth perception?

Figure 1: Example of a figure (black) on a ground (white). For two contiguous regions in the visual field, the common perceptual outcome is that the edge between them appears to be a boundary for only one of them, and that region— the figure —appears to have a definite shape.

The contiguous region— the ground —appears shapeless near the edge it shares with the figure, and is perceived to continue behind it. Thus, in addition to being shaped, the figure appears nearer than the ground part, involving depth perception, and the ground appears to be occluded by the figure. This perceptual experience is labeled figure-ground perception,

An example is shown in Figure 1, where the edge shared by the black and white regions appears to enclose the black region and the white region appears to continue behind the shaped black region. Figures constitute the objects we perceive and with which we interact.

  • Therefore, figure assignment —the determination of which portions of the input correspond to figures—is a critical component of perception.
  • The ground is often shaped by edges at some distance from the figure.
  • For instance, even though the white region in Figure 1 is unshaped near the border it shares with the smaller black region, it is shaped by the outline border it shares with the larger surrounding white region.

As this example makes clear, a region can be a ground along some portion of its bounding edges, and a figure along other portions.) Figure assignment is not simply given in the input; it results from processes of perceptual organization. Many factors influence figure assignment; some of these factors have been known since the early 20th century, whereas others have been identified in the early 21st century.

What is the difference between figure and ground in psychology?

Answer: Figure–ground organization is a type of perceptual grouping which is a vital necessity for recognizing objects through vision. In Gestalt psychology it is known as identifying a figure from the background. For example, words on a printed paper are seen as the “figure” and the white sheet as the “background”.

What are the 5 principles of Gestalt?

What are the gestalt principles of design? – The classic principles of the gestalt theory of visual perception include similarity, continuation, closure, proximity, figure/ground, and symmetry & order (also known as prägnanz). Others, such as “common fate,” have been added in recent years.

What is a great example of figure-ground ambiguity?

A classic example of ambiguous figure-ground image. The per- ception of a white vase on a black background or two black human profiles in front of a white background can exchange spontaneously.

What is an example that demonstrates the difference between figure and ground?

‘Figure-ground differentiation is key to the perception of objects-for example, a cup, papers, phone, desk or more dramatically, a tiger, as opposed to a meaningless pattern of colors and edges,’ he says.

What is an example of figure-ground segregation?

Figure-ground segregation is the process by which the visual system identifies image elements of figures and segregates them from the background. Previous studies examined figure-ground segregation in the visual cortex of monkeys where figures elicit stronger neuronal responses than backgrounds.

What is an example of a stable figure-ground relationship?

Figure-Ground – What is the principle of figure-ground? According to Universal Principles of Design, figure-ground is the state in which we perceive elements as either the objects of focus or the background. Like closure, figure-ground works through the use of positive and negative space.

Figure-ground exists in practically everything we visually perceive, whether a scene, a composition, a website, a logo or an icon. Figure-ground is stable when objects are distinguishable from the background and the background holds no interest. Stable figure-ground provides a setting for objects and allows us to focus attention where we want it.

For example, we perceive the image below as a circle on a background. The circle is the focus and holds our attention while the background is of little interest. This example exhibits strong figure-ground stability as the figure has shape and is perceived to be in front, while the background is shapeless, continuing behind the figure at a further depth. When figure-ground is not stable, as in the example below, perceptual ambiguity is introduced and the relationships between elements become unclear. In this deliberately oversimplified example, the figure and ground are reversible, causing us to alternate between seeing one item and then the other as the figure and then the ground. However, ambiguity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This lack of stability can be used to our advantage when designing. Purposefully destabilizing the figure-ground relationship can introduce discord or tension, adding excitement and interest to our designs. What Is Figure Ground In Psychology Notice how figure and ground shift depending on which hero or villain you focus on. ( View large version )