Figure-ground organization refers to experience that viewers have as to which part of the image is in front and which part of an image forms the background of a particular scene. In essence, we divide the world into two elements: the figure that is the object of regard, and the rest, which is ground or background.
There are some situations in which figure-ground can be highly ambiguous, and it may not be possible to determine which part of the image is the front and which is the back. This is true of many classic visual illusions. One such classic example is the face—vase figure, first introduced into the literature by psychologist Edgar Rubin in 1915. In this figure, the border between the black-and-white regions is seen as being part of one or the other and not both. Thus, either the black vase in the middle stands out as the foreground and the white is in the background or the white faces stand out as the foreground and the black space is the background. Interestingly, in these ambiguous figures, people either see one interpretation or the other, and although they can flip back and forth, they cannot see both at the same time.
In this illustration, you can manipulate a classic face—vase figure and see if you can make either the faces or vase more prominent as the figure.
To see the illustration in full screen, which is recommended, press the Full Screen button, which appears at the top of the page.
Below is a list of the ways that you can alter the illustration. The settings include the following:
Brightness: alter the overall brightness of the image from very dark to nearly
as bright as the display allows. Do dark or light images favor the faces or the vase?
Contrast: change the range between light and dark, and even reverse what part of the image is light and dark. How does contrast influence your tendency to see faces or the vase?
Scale Width: adjust the width of the image. Does changing the proportions from narrow to wide make you more likely to see faces or the vase?
Scale Height: adjust the height of the image. Does changing the proportions from tall to short make you more likely to see faces or the vase?
How to Display: Single refers to showing only one image that has all your current settings. Compare will put the original figure on the left and the image with the current settings on the right.
Pressing this button restores the settings to their default values.