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J Vis. 2010 Jul 1;10(8):13. doi: 10.1167/10.8.13.

Cortical distance determines whether flankers cause crowding or the tilt illusion.

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Department of Optometry and Visual Science, City University, London, UK.


Differences between target and flanker orientations become exaggerated in the tilt illusion. However, small differences sometimes go unnoticed. This small-angle assimilation shares many similarities with other types of visual crowding but is typically found only with small and/or hard-to-see stimuli. In Experiment 1, we investigated the effect of stimulus visibility on orientation bias using relatively large stimuli. The introduction of visual noise increased the perceived similarity of target and flanker orientations at retinal eccentricities of 4° and 10°; however, small-angle assimilation was found only at 10°. The effects of eccentricity were reduced in Experiment 2, when our stimuli were "M-scaled" for equal cortical coverage. Further support for a cortical substrate was obtained in Experiment 3, in which the effects of target-flanker separation were measured. When biases from all three experiments are expressed as a fraction of the inducing flankers' angle, and plotted as a function of the approximate cortical separation between the target and its closest flanker, they form a curve like the cross-section of half a Mexican hat. We conclude that the tilt illusion and small-angle assimilation reflect opponent influences on orientation perception. The strength of each influence increases with cortical proximity and stimulus visibility, but the one responsible for assimilation has a lesser extent.

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