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Vision Res. 2000;40(4):365-70.

The foveal 'crowding' effect: physics or physiology?

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Department of Ophthalmology, McGill Vision Research Unit, McGill University, Montreal, Que., Canada.


It has been known for some time that both foveal and peripheral visual acuity is higher for single letters than for letters in a row. Early work showed that this was due to the destructive interaction of adjacent contours (termed 'crowding' or contour interaction). It has been assumed to have a neural basis and a number of competing explanations have been advanced which implicate either high-level or low-level stages of visual processing. Our results suggest a much simpler explanation, one primarily determined by the physics of the stimulus rather than the physiology of the visual system. We show that, under conditions of contour interaction or 'crowding', the most relevant physical spatial frequency band of the letter is displaced to higher spatial frequencies and that foveal vision tracks this change in spatial scale.

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