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J Vis. 2009 Aug 13;9(9):4.1-19. doi: 10.1167/9.9.4.

Scale dependence and channel switching in letter identification.

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Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Letters are broadband visual stimuli with information useful for discrimination over a wide range of spatial frequencies. Yet, recent evidence suggests that observers use only a single, fixed spatial-frequency channel to identify letters and that the scale of that channel, in units of letter size, is determined by the size of the letter (scale dependence). We report two letter-identification experiments using critical-band masking. With sufficiently high-amplitude, low- or high-pass masking noise, observers switched to a different range of spatial frequencies for the task. Thus, letter channels are not fixed for a given letter size. When an additional white-noise masker was added to the stimulus to flatten the contrast-sensitivity function, the letter channel used by the observer still depended on letter size, further supporting the hypothesis that letter identification is scale dependent.

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