Configuration specificity of crowding in peripheral vision

Nisha S Yeotikar, Sieu K Khuu, Lisa J Asper, Catherine M Suttle
Vision Research 2011 June 1, 51 (11): 1239-48
Peripheral vision is characterized in part by poor spatial resolution and impaired visual performance, particularly when the object is surrounded by flanking elements, a phenomenon popularly known as "crowding". Crowding scales with eccentricity irrespective of the target size, both in terms of magnitude and spatial extent, which is determined by varying the target-flanker separation. However, the extent to which crowding depends upon the flanking stimuli parameters alone without separating target and flankers is poorly understood. In the present study, we investigated the effect of flanking stimulus parameters on crowding in orientation and contrast discrimination tasks using closely located "chain" lateral Gabor stimuli in order to enhance our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of crowding in peripheral vision. We found a strong configural effect on crowding in both orientation and contrast discrimination tasks, with reduced crowding when the flanker parameters enhanced the target salience and increased crowding when the flankers were perceptually grouped with the target. While in orientation discrimination crowding was dependent on eccentricity, and in contrast discrimination it was dependent on flanker contrast and eccentricity, crowding showed little dependence on the number of flankers in either task. We conclude that crowding in peripheral orientation and contrast discrimination is configuration specific, which can be reduced without alterations to the target-flanker separation and that crowding is a combination of low-level as well as high-level cortical processing.

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