Configural Superiority Effect

The Configural Superiority Effect (CSE) is an improvement in discrimination performance resulting from the addition of informationless context. For example in Figure A, when discriminating line segments differing in orientation, such as spotting a left diagonal in a field of rights, adding identical (and thus informationless) L-shaped elements to each diagonal improves performance (speed, accuracy) by a factor of about two, presumably by creating new configurations - arrows and triangles - that differ on the basis of new, emergent features such as closure, intersections, and line terminators.


Figure A.

A slight change in the positioning of the context elements eliminates the CSE, yielding a decline in performance called a Configural Inferiority Effect (CIE), as shown in Figure B.


Figure B.

Generally speaking, a CSE occurs whenever a discrimination between stimuli A and B is aided by the addition of context C, as in Figure C.

Figure C.

For most stimuli A, B, and C, a CIE will be the result rather than a CSE, because the added context C:
  1. dilutes the dissimilarities between A and B
  2. increases the total processing load
  3. distracts attention away from the critical stimuli A and B
  4. introduces sensory masking of A and B.

CSEs may be used to diagnose the presence of emergent features and configurality. (JRP, February 2, 2007)