Suppressive and facilitatory spatial interactions in peripheral vision: peripheral crowding is neither size invariant nor simple contrast masking

J Vis. 2002;2(2):167-77. doi: 10.1167/2.2.3.


Peripheral vision is characterized by reduced spatial resolution and inhibitory spatial interactions that extend over long distances. This work had three goals. (1) We considered whether the extensive crowding in peripheral vision is a consequence of a shift in the spatial scale of analysis. To test this, using a large range of target sizes and spatial frequencies, we measured the extent of crowding for targets that were limited in their spatial frequency content. (2) We considered whether crowding in peripheral vision can be explained on the basis of contrast masking by remote flanks. To test this hypothesis, we measured and compared crowding in a direction-identification experiment with masking by remote flanks in a detection experiment. In each of the experiments, our targets and flanks were composed of Gabor features, thus allowing us to control the feature contrast, spatial frequency, and orientation. (3) We examined the relationship between the suppressive and facilitatory interactions in peripheral contrast detection and crowding. Our results show that unlike the normal fovea (Levi, Klein, & Hariharan, 2002), peripheral crowding is not scale invariant nor is it attributable to simple contrast masking. Rather, our results suggest that inhibitory spatial interactions in peripheral crowding extend over larger distances than in the fovea for targets of the same size. In peripheral vision, the critical distance for crowding is approximately 0.1 times the target eccentricity. Observers can easily detect the features that compose our targets (Gabor patches) under conditions where crowding is strong. Thus, we speculate that peripheral crowding occurs because the target and flanks are combined or pooled at a second stage, following the stage of feature extraction. In peripheral vision, this pooling takes place over a large distance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*