Local interactions in neural networks explain global effects in Gestalt processing and masking.
One of the fundamental and puzzling questions in vision research is how objects are segmented from their backgrounds and how object formation evolves in time. The recently discovered shine-through effect allows one to study object segmentation and object formation of a masked target depending on the spatiotemporal Gestalt of the masking stimulus (Herzog & Koch, 2001). In the shine-through effect, a vernier (two abutting lines) precedes a grating for a very short time. For small gratings, the vernier remains invisible while it regains visibility as a shine-through element for extended and homogeneous gratings. However, even subtle deviations from the homogeneity of the grating diminish or even abolish shine-through. At first glance, these results suggest that explanations of these effects have to rely on high-level Gestalt terminology such as homogeneity rather than on low-level properties such as luminance (Herzog, Fahle, & Koch, 2001). Here, we show that a simple neural network model of the Wilson-Cowan type qualitatively and quantitatively explains the basic effects in the shine-through paradigm, although the model does not contain any explicit, global Gestalt processing. Visibility of the target vernier corresponds to transient activation of neural populations resulting from the dynamics of local lateral interactions of excitatory and inhibitory layers of neural populations.