Performance in visual tasks is limited by the low-level mechanisms that sample the visual field. It is well documented that contrast sensitivity and spatial resolution decrease as a function of eccentricity and that those factors impair performance in "higher level" tasks, such as visual search. Performance also varies consistently at isoeccentric locations in the visual field. Specifically, at a fixed eccentricity, performance is better along the horizontal meridian than the vertical meridian, and along the lower than the upper vertical meridian. Whether these asymmetries in visual performance fields are confined to the vertical meridian or extend across the whole upper versus lower visual hemifield has been a matter of debate. Here, we measure the extent of the upper versus lower asymmetry. Results reveal that this asymmetry is most pronounced at the vertical meridian and that it decreases gradually as the angular distance (polar angle) from the vertical meridian increases, with eccentricity held constant. Beyond 30° of polar angle from the vertical meridian, the upper to lower asymmetry is no longer reliable. Thus, the vertical meridian is uniquely asymmetric and uniquely insensitive. This pattern of results is consistent with early anatomical properties of the visual system and reflects constraints that are critical to our understanding of visual information processing.
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