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PLoS One. 2010 Mar 29;5(3):e9918. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009918.

Distance estimation is influenced by encoding conditions.

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  • 1Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



It is well established that foveating a behaviorally relevant part of the visual field improves localization performance as compared to the situation where the gaze is directed elsewhere. Reduced localization performance in the peripheral encoding conditions has been attributed to an eccentricity-dependent increase in positional uncertainty. It is not known, however, whether and how the foveal and peripheral encoding conditions can influence spatial interval estimation. In this study we compare observers' estimates of a distance between two co-planar dots in the condition where they foveate the two sample dots and where they fixate a central dot while viewing the sample dots peripherally.


Observers were required to reproduce, after a short delay, a distance between two sample dots based on a stationary reference dot and a movable mouse pointer. When both sample dots are foveated, we find that the distance estimation error is small but consistently increases with the dots-separation size. In comparison, distance judgment in peripheral encoding condition is significantly overestimated for smaller separations and becomes similar to the performance in foveal trials for distances from 10 to 16 degrees.


Although we find improved accuracy of distance estimation in the foveal condition, the fact that the difference is related to the reduction of the estimation bias present in the peripheral condition, challenges the simple account of reducing the eccentricity-dependent positional uncertainty. Contrary to this, we present evidence for an explanation in terms of neuronal populations activated by the two sample dots and their inhibitory interactions under different visual encoding conditions. We support our claims with simulations that take into account receptive fields size differences between the two encoding conditions.

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