Visual crowding: a fundamental limit on conscious perception and object recognition

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Apr;15(4):160-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.02.005. Epub 2011 Mar 21.


Crowding, the inability to recognize objects in clutter, sets a fundamental limit on conscious visual perception and object recognition throughout most of the visual field. Despite how widespread and essential it is to object recognition, reading and visually guided action, a solid operational definition of what crowding is has only recently become clear. The goal of this review is to provide a broad-based synthesis of the most recent findings in this area, to define what crowding is and is not, and to set the stage for future work that will extend our understanding of crowding well beyond low-level vision. Here we define six diagnostic criteria for what counts as crowding, and further describe factors that both escape and break crowding. All of these lead to the conclusion that crowding occurs at multiple stages in the visual hierarchy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Consciousness*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Psychophysics
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*