The human ability to represent ensemble visual information, such as average orientation and size, has been suggested as the foundation of gist perception. To effectively summarize different groups of objects into the gist of a scene, observers should form ensembles separately for different groups, even when objects have similar visual features across groups. We hypothesized that the visual system utilizes perceptual groups characterized by spatial configuration and represents separate ensembles for different groups. Therefore, participants could not integrate ensembles of different perceptual groups on a task basis. We asked participants to determine the average orientation of visual elements comprising a surface with a contour situated inside. Although participants were asked to estimate the average orientation of all the elements, they ignored orientation signals embedded in the contour. This constraint may help the visual system to keep the visual features of occluding objects separate from those of the occluded objects.
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