The hot fringes of consciousness: Perceptual fluency and affect
High figure-ground contrast usually results in more positive evaluations of visual stimuli. This may either reflect that high figure-ground contrast per se is a desirable attribute or that this attribute facilitates fluent processing. In the latter case, the influence of high figure-ground contrast should be most pronounced under short exposure times, that is, under conditions where the facilitative influence on perceptual fluency is most pronounced. Supporting this hypothesis, ratings of the prettiness of visual stimuli increased with figure-ground contrast under short exposure times (.3, 1, and 3 seconds, respectively). This positive influence of figure-ground contrast was eliminated under an exposure time of 10 seconds. We conclude that stimuli with high figure-ground contrast are more appealing because they are easier to process, not because high figure-ground contrast per se is a desirable attribute. We discuss this finding in the context of William James’ notion that the fringe of consciousness includes vague contextual feelings at the periphery of the focus of attention and suggest that perceptual fluency is one of these feelings.