Recovery of a crowded object by masking the flankers: determining the locus of feature integration

Journal of Vision
Ramakrishna Chakravarthi, P Cavanagh


Object recognition is a central function of the visual system. As a first step, the features of an object are registered; these independently encoded features are then bound together to form a single representation. Here we investigate the locus of this "feature integration" by examining crowding, a striking breakdown of this process. Crowding, an inability to identify a peripheral target surrounded by flankers, results from "excessive integration" of target and flanker features. We presented a standard crowding display with a target C flanked by four flanker C's in the periphery. We then masked only the flankers (but not the target) with one of three kinds of masks-noise, metacontrast, and object substitution-each of which interferes at progressively higher levels of visual processing. With noise and metacontrast masks (low-level masking), the crowded target was recovered, whereas with object substitution masks (high-level masking), it was not. This places a clear upper bound on the locus of interference in crowding suggesting that crowding is not a low-level phenomenon. We conclude that feature integration, which underlies crowding, occurs prior to the locus of object substitution masking. Further, our results indicate that t...Continue Reading


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