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Natalia Melnik, Daniel R. Coates, Bilge Sayim; Emergent features in the crowding zone: When target–flanker grouping surmounts crowding. Journal of Vision 2018;18(9):19. doi: 10.1167/18.9.19.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Crowding is the impairment of target identification when the target is surrounded by nearby flankers. Two hallmarks of crowding are that it is stronger when the flankers are close to the target and when the target strongly groups with the flankers. Here we show the opposite of both. A chevron target (pointing up or down) was presented at 8° eccentricity in the right visual field. It was surrounded by four flankers. Three of the flankers varied (pointing left or right). The fourth, the critical flanker (CF), was fixed in one orientation (left, right, up, down), yielding different configurations with the target. The CF's distance to the target was varied. Target identification depended strongly on the distance and the orientation of the CF. Remarkably, when the target and the CF grouped into a good configuration and elicited an emergent feature, performance was high if the CF was close to the target. This effect was particularly strong when participants were informed about the different CF-target configurations before the experiment. Reducing crowding and grouping by asynchronous presentation of the CF and the other items abolished the effect. When participants reported the entire configuration of the CF and the target, performance rapidly decreased with increasing spacing when the CF and the target were different but not when they were the same, indicating different spatial extents of the corresponding grouping processes. Our results show that the features emerging from the configurations of the target and a flanker strongly modulate crowding. Strong target–flanker grouping can benefit performance.
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