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Marina V. Danilova, Valeria M. Bondarko; Foveal contour interactions and crowding effects at the resolution limit of the visual system. Journal of Vision 2007;7(2):25. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/7.2.25.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
We describe several experiments on contour interactions and crowding effects at the resolution limit of the visual system. As test stimuli we used characters that are often employed in optometric practice for testing visual acuity: Landolt C's, Snellen E's, and rectangular gratings. We tested several hypotheses that have been put forward to explain contour interaction and crowding effects. In Experiment 1 and Experiment 2, Landolt C's were the test stimuli, and bars, or Landolt C's, or gratings served as distractors. In Experiment 1, we showed that neither scale invariance nor spatial frequency selectivity is a characteristic of foveal crowding effects. These results allowed us to conclude that mechanisms other than lateral masking contribute to observers' performance in ‘crowded’ tasks. R. F. Hess, S. C. Dakin, and N. Kappor (2000) suggested that the spatial frequency band most appropriate for target recognition is shifted by the surrounding bars to higher spatial frequencies that cannot be resolved by observers. Our Experiment 2 rejects this hypothesis as the experimental data do not follow theoretical predictions. In Experiment 3, we employed Snellen E's, both as test stimuli and as distractors. The masking functions were similar to those measured in Experiment 1 when the test Landolt C was surrounded by Landolt C's. In Experiment 4, we extended the range of test stimuli to rectangular gratings; same-frequency or high-frequency gratings were distractors. In this case, if the distracting gratings had random orientation from trial to trial, the critical spacing was twice larger than in the first three experiments. If the orientation of the distractors was fixed during the whole experiment, the critical spacing was similar to that measured in the first three experiments. We suggest that the visual system can use different mechanisms for the discrimination of different test stimuli in the presence of particular surround. Different receptive fields with different spatial characteristics can be employed. To explain why crowding effects at the resolution limit of the visual system are not scale invariant, we suggest that a range of stimuli, slightly varying in size, may all be processed by the same neural channel—the channel with the smallest receptive fields of the visual system.
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