Critical resolution: A superior measure of crowding

Leili Soo (Corresponding Author), Ramakrishna Chakravarthi, Soren K. Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Visual object recognition is essential for adaptive interactions with the environment. It is fundamentally limited by crowding, a breakdown of object recognition in clutter. The spatial extent over which crowding occurs is proportional to the eccentricity of the target object, but nevertheless varies substantially depending on various stimulus factors (e.g. viewing time, contrast). However, a lack of studies jointly manipulating such factors precludes predictions of crowding in more heterogeneous scenes, such as the majority of real life situations.
To establish how such co-occurring variations affect crowding, we manipulated combinations of 1) flanker contrast and backward masking, 2) flanker contrast and presentation duration, and 3) flanker preview and pop-out while measuring participants’ ability to correctly report the orientation of a target stimulus. In all three experiments, combining two manipulations consistently modulated the spatial extent of crowding in a way that could not be predicted from an additive combination. However, a simple transformation of the measurement scale completely abolished these interactions and all effects became additive. Precise quantitative predictions of the magnitude of crowding when combining multiple manipulations are thus possible when it is expressed in terms of what we label the ‘critical resolution’. Critical resolution is proportional to the inverse of the smallest flanker free area surrounding the target object necessary for its unimpaired identification. It offers a more parsimonious description of crowding than the traditionally used critical spacing and may thus constitute a measure of fundamental importance for understanding object recognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-23
Number of pages11
JournalVision Research
Early online date18 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • object recognition
  • visual crowding
  • psychophysics
  • critical spacing
  • critical resolution
  • visual perception
  • flanker interference

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