In crowding, perception of a target is strongly deteriorated by nearby elements. Crowding is often explained by pooling models predicting that adding flankers increases crowding. In contrast, the centroid hypothesis proposes that adding flankers decreases crowding--"bigger is better." In foveal vision, we have recently shown that adding flankers can increase or decrease crowding depending on whether the target groups or ungroups from the flankers. We have further shown how configural effects, such as good and global Gestalt, determine crowding. Foveal and peripheral crowding do not always reveal the same characteristics. Here, we show that the very same grouping and Gestalt results of foveal vision are also found in the periphery. These results can neither be explained by simple pooling nor by centroid models. We discuss when bigger is better and how grouping might shape crowding.
Visual sensitivity varies across the visual field in several characteristic ways. For example, sensitivity declines sharply in peripheral (vs. foveal) vision and is typically worse in the upper (vs. lower) visual field. These variations can affect processes ranging from acuity and crowding (the deleterious effect of clutter on object recognition) to the precision of saccadic eye movements. Here we examine whether these variations can be attributed to a common source within the visual system. We first compared the size of crowding zones with the precision of saccades using an oriented clock target and two adjacent flanker elements. We report that both saccade precision and crowded-target reports vary idiosyncratically across the visual field with a strong correlation across tasks for all participants. Nevertheless, both group-level and trial-by-trial analyses reveal dissociations that exclude a common representation for the two processes. We therefore compared crowding with two measures of spatial localization: Landolt-C gap resolution and three-dot bisection. Here we observe similar idiosyncratic variations with strong interparticipant correlations across tasks despite considerably finer precision. Hierarchical regression analyses further show that variations in spatial precision account for much of the variation in crowding, including the correlation between crowding and saccades. Altogether, we demonstrate that crowding, spatial localization, and saccadic precision show clear dissociations, indicative of independent spatial representations, whilst nonetheless sharing idiosyncratic variations in spatial topology. We propose that these topological idiosyncrasies are established early in the visual system and inherited throughout later stages to affect a range of higher-level representations.O ur sensitivity to visual stimuli varies substantially across the visual field with characteristic patterns that are evident across a wide range of tasks. Most notably, our ability to see fine detail decreases sharply as objects move into peripheral vision (1). These abilities are further disrupted by crowding, the impairment of object recognition in clutter, which also increases with eccentricity (2, 3). Both of these effects have been attributed to an overrepresentation of the fovea at the expense of peripheral vision, known as "cortical magnification" (4, 5), which has been observed in a range of retinotopically organized areas of the brain (6, 7). Here we ask whether other variations in visual sensitivity can similarly be attributed to topological principles within the visual system and consider whether these variations might share a common source.Variations across the visual field are particularly apparent with crowding, a process that presents the fundamental limitation on object recognition in peripheral vision (8). Crowding disrupts the recognition of a target object when flanker objects fall within a surrounding "interference zone." As well as increasing in size with eccentricity, these zones show an elliptical shap...
In object recognition, features are thought to be processed in a hierarchical fashion from low-level analysis (edges and lines) to complex figural processing (shapes and objects). Here, we show that figural processing determines low-level processing. Vernier offset discrimination strongly deteriorated when we embedded a vernier in a square. This is a classic crowding effect. Surprisingly, crowding almost disappeared when additional squares were added. We propose that figural interactions between the squares precede low-level suppression of the vernier by the single square, contrary to hierarchical models of object recognition.
In crowding, the perception of a target strongly deteriorates when neighboring elements are presented. Crowding is usually assumed to have the following characteristics. (a) Crowding is determined only by nearby elements within a restricted region around the target (Bouma's law). (b) Increasing the number of flankers can only deteriorate performance. (c) Target-flanker interference is feature-specific. These characteristics are usually explained by pooling models, which are well in the spirit of classic models of object recognition. In this review, we summarize recent findings showing that crowding is not determined by the above characteristics, thus, challenging most models of crowding. We propose that the spatial configuration across the entire visual field determines crowding. Only when one understands how all elements of a visual scene group with each other, can one determine crowding strength. We put forward the hypothesis that appearance (i.e., how stimuli look) is a good predictor for crowding, because both crowding and appearance reflect the output of recurrent processing rather than interactions during the initial phase of visual processing.
In crowding, neighboring elements impair the perception of a peripherally presented target. Crowding is often regarded to be a consequence of spatial pooling of information that leads to the perception of textural wholes. We studied the effects of stimulus configuration on crowding using Gabor stimuli. In accordance with previous studies, contrast and orientation discrimination of a Gabor target were impaired in the presence of flanking Gabors of equal length. The stimulus configuration was then changed (1) by making the flankers either shorter or longer than the target or (2) by constructing each flanker from two or three small Gabors. These simple configural changes greatly reduced or even abolished crowding, even though the orientation, spatial frequency, and phase of the stimuli were unchanged. The results challenge simple pooling explanations for crowding. We propose that crowding is weak whenever the target stands out from the stimulus array and strong when the target groups with the flanking elements to form a coherent texture.
Vernier alignment thresholds are strongly compromised when the vernier is embedded in an array of equal-length flanking lines. Here, we show that these contextual interactions can be diminished by giving the flanks the opposite contrast polarity, e.g., white flanks surrounding a black vernier. Similar results are obtained for red verniers and equiluminant green flanks and when vernier and flanks have different binocular disparity. Using special flank configurations, we can eliminate location uncertainty as an important factor for this kind of contextual interactions. We interpret these results as evidence that perceptual grouping of the vernier and the flanks plays an important role in the vernier threshold elevation caused by contextual flanks.
Human perception of a stimulus varies depending on the context in which the stimulus is presented. Such contextual modulation has often been explained by two basic neural mechanisms: lateral inhibition and spatial pooling. In the present study, we presented observers with a vernier stimulus flanked by single lines; observers' ability to discriminate the offset direction of the vernier stimulus deteriorated in accordance with both explanations. However, when the flanking lines were part of a geometric shape (i.e., a good Gestalt), this deterioration strongly diminished. These findings cannot be explained by lateral inhibition or spatial pooling. It seems that Gestalt factors play an important role in contextual modulation. We propose that contextual modulation can be used as a quantitative measure to investigate the rules governing the grouping of elements into meaningful wholes.
Scenes in the real world carry large amounts of information about color, texture, shading, illumination, and occlusion giving rise to our perception of a rich and detailed environment. In contrast, line drawings have only a sparse subset of scene contours. Nevertheless, they also trigger vivid three-dimensional impressions despite having no equivalent in the natural world. Here, we ask why line drawings work. We see that they exploit the underlying neural codes of vision and they also show that artists’ intuitions go well beyond the understanding of vision found in current neurosciences and computer vision.
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