Orientation-crowding within contours

James C Glen, Steven C Dakin
Journal of Vision 2013, 13 (8)
We examined how crowding (the breakdown of object recognition in the periphery caused by interference from "clutter") depends on the global arrangement of target and distracting flanker elements. Specifically we probed orientation discrimination using a near-vertical target Gabor flanked by two vertical distractor Gabors (one above and one below the target). By applying variable (opposite-sign) horizontal offsets to the positions of the two flankers we arranged the elements so that on some trials they formed contours with the target and on others they did not. While the presence of flankers generally elevated orientation discrimination thresholds for the target we observe maximal crowding not when flanker and targets were co-aligned but when a small spatial offset was applied to flanker location, so that contours formed between flanker and targets only when the target orientation was cued. We also report that observers' orientation judgments are biased, with target orientation appearing either attracted or repulsed by the global/contour orientation. A second experiment reveals that the sign of this effect is dependent both on observer and on eccentricity. In general, the magnitude of repulsion is reduced with eccentricity but whether this becomes attraction (of element orientation to contour orientation) is dependent on observer. We note however that across observers and eccentricities, the magnitude of repulsion correlates positively with the amount of release from crowding observed with co-aligned targets and flankers, supporting the notion of fluctuating bias as the basis for elevated crowding within contours.

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