In object recognition, features are thought to be processed in a hierarchical fashion from low-level analysis (edges and lines) to complex figural processing (shapes and objects). Here, we show that figural processing determines low-level processing. Vernier offset discrimination strongly deteriorated when we embedded a vernier in a square. This is a classic crowding effect. Surprisingly, crowding almost disappeared when additional squares were added. We propose that figural interactions between the squares precede low-level suppression of the vernier by the single square, contrary to hierarchical models of object recognition.
Keywords: contextual modulation; crowding; grouping; hierarchical processing; vernier acuity.