Reducing crowding by weakening inhibitory lateral interactions in the periphery with perceptual learning.
Maniglia M, Pavan A, Cuturi LF, Campana G, Sato G, Casco C.
Department of General Psychology, University of Padua, Padua, Italy. email@example.com
We investigated whether lateral masking in the near-periphery, due to inhibitory lateral interactions at an early level of central visual processing, could be weakened by perceptual learning and whether learning transferred to an untrained, higher-level lateral masking known as crowding. The trained task was contrast detection of a Gabor target presented in the near periphery (4°) in the presence of co-oriented and co-aligned high contrast Gabor flankers, which featured different target-to-flankers separations along the vertical axis that varied from 2λ to 8λ. We found both suppressive and facilitatory lateral interactions at target-to-flankers distances (2λ - 4λ and 8λ, respectively) that were larger than those found in the fovea. Training reduces suppression but does not increase facilitation. Most importantly, we found that learning reduces crowding and improves contrast sensitivity, but has no effect on visual acuity (VA). These results suggest a different pattern of connectivity in the periphery with respect to the fovea as well as a different modulation of this connectivity via perceptual learning that not only reduces low-level lateral masking but also reduces crowding. These results have important implications for the rehabilitation of low-vision patients who must use peripheral vision to perform tasks, such as reading and refined figure-ground segmentation, which normal sighted subjects perform in the fovea.