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Visual crowding: The paradox of position

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Understanding visual crowding

Objects are harder to see in the periphery than when they are viewed directly. An EU-funded study investigated visual crowding, the phenomenon responsible for this.

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Visual crowding refers to how the brain perceives objects in the periphery. It occurs when the objects in the dominant view render those in the periphery as jumbled and blurred together, making them unrecognisable. The discrepancy in visual crowding is that people can generally tell the position of the objects themselves, but often cannot differentiate the positions of the features within the object. This is called the paradox of position. The project 'Visual crowding: The paradox of position' (VISUALCROWDING) conducted experiments to better understand this paradox and the phenomenon of visual crowding. In the first part of the study, researchers found that visual crowding occurs much more frequently when the positions of the objects themselves are unknown, supporting the idea that uncertainty about location and feature location leads to visual crowding. Researchers then explored what would happen if one feature became defined in the peripheral field. They found that understanding the location and features of just one object releases the crowding entirely. Researchers then investigated the neural mechanisms behind crowding. Using functional magnetic brain resonance imaging studies, they found that crowding changes even the earliest stages of brain processing, with an increasing effect higher up the cortical hierarchy. This finding indicates that crowding has widespread effects throughout the visual system. Study results provided new insights into the phenomenon of crowding. This phenomenon can be viewed as a higher-level form of position uncertainty within the visual system that is nonetheless heavily dependent upon earlier stages of processing. These findings have the potential to guide future research in the field. They also may help direct treatment for strabismic amblyopia ('lazy eye') and dyslexia, where crowding is elevated and interferes with perception.

Keywords

Visual crowding, periphery, paradox of position, location, feature location, peripheral field, neural mechanisms, visual system, position uncertainty, strabismic amblyopia, dyslexia, perception

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