It has been known for some time that both foveal and peripheral visual acuity are higher for single letters than for letters in a row. Early work showed that this was due to the destructive interaction of adjacent contours (termed contour interaction). It has been assumed to have a neural basis, and a number of competing explanations have been advanced that implicate either high-level or low-level stages of visual processing. Our previous results for foveal vision suggested a much simpler explanation, one determined primarily by the physics of the stimulus rather than the physiology of the visual system. We show that, under conditions of contour interaction or crowding, the most relevant physical spatial-frequency band of the letter is displaced to higher spatial frequencies and that foveal vision tracks this change in spatial scale. In the periphery, however, beyond 5°, the physical explanation is not sufficient. Here we show that there are genuine physiological lateral spatial interactions, which are due to changes in the spatial scale of analysis.
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