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1.  Grouping in object recognition: The role of a Gestalt law in letter identification 
Cognitive Neuropsychology  2009;26(1):36-49.
The Gestalt psychologists reported a set of laws describing how vision groups elements to recognize objects. The Gestalt laws “prescribe for us what we are to recognize ‘as one thing’” (Köhler, 1920). Were they right? Does object recognition involve grouping? Tests of the laws of grouping have been favourable, but mostly assessed only detection, not identification, of the compound object. The grouping of elements seen in the detection experiments with lattices and “snakes in the grass” is compelling, but falls far short of the vivid everyday experience of recognizing a familiar, meaningful, named thing, which mediates the ordinary identification of an object. Thus, after nearly a century, there is hardly any evidence that grouping plays a role in ordinary object recognition. To assess grouping in object recognition, we made letters out of grating patches and measured threshold contrast for identifying these letters in visual noise as a function of perturbation of grating orientation, phase, and offset. We define a new measure, “wiggle”, to characterize the degree to which these various perturbations violate the Gestalt law of good continuation. We find that efficiency for letter identification is inversely proportional to wiggle and is wholly determined by wiggle, independent of how the wiggle was produced. Thus the effects of three different kinds of shape perturbation on letter identifiability are predicted by a single measure of goodness of continuation. This shows that letter identification obeys the Gestalt law of good continuation and may be the first confirmation of the original Gestalt claim that object recognition involves grouping.
PMCID: PMC2679997  PMID: 19424881
Gestalt; Grouping; Contour integration; Good continuation; Letter identification; Object recognition; Features; Snake in the grass; Snake letters; Dot lattice
2.  The same binding in contour integration and crowding 
Journal of vision  2011;11(8):10.1167/11.8.10 10.
Binding of features helps object recognition in contour integration, but hinders it in crowding. In contour integration, aligned adjacent objects group together to form a path. In crowding, flanking objects make the target unidentifiable. But, to date, the two tasks have only been studied separately. May and Hess (2007) suggested that the same binding mediates both tasks. To test this idea, we ask observers to perform two different tasks with the same stimulus. We present oriented grating patches that form a “snake letter” in the periphery. Observers report either the identity of the whole letter (contour integration task) or the phase of one of the grating patches (crowding task). We manipulate the strength of binding between gratings by varying the alignment between them, i.e. the Gestalt goodness of continuation, measured as “wiggle”. We find that better alignment strengthens binding, which improves contour integration and worsens crowding. Observers show equal sensitivity to alignment in these two very different tasks, suggesting that the same binding mechanism underlies both phenomena. It has been claimed that grouping among flankers reduces their crowding of the target. Instead, we find that these published cases of weak crowding are due to weak binding resulting from target-flanker misalignment. We conclude that crowding is mediated solely by the grouping of flankers with the target and is independent of grouping among flankers.
PMCID: PMC3624759  PMID: 21757504
crowding; wiggle; grouping; binding; Gestalt; contour integration; good continuation; alignment; object recognition; snake letter
3.  A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception I. Perceptual Grouping and Figure-Ground Organization 
Psychological bulletin  2012;138(6):1172-1217.
In 1912, Max Wertheimer published his paper on phi motion, widely recognized as the start of Gestalt psychology. Because of its continued relevance in modern psychology, this centennial anniversary is an excellent opportunity to take stock of what Gestalt psychology has offered and how it has changed since its inception. We first introduce the key findings and ideas in the Berlin school of Gestalt psychology, and then briefly sketch its development, rise, and fall. Next, we discuss its empirical and conceptual problems, and indicate how they are addressed in contemporary research on perceptual grouping and figure-ground organization. In particular, we review the principles of grouping, both classical (e.g., proximity, similarity, common fate, good continuation, closure, symmetry, parallelism) and new (e.g., synchrony, common region, element and uniform connectedness), and their role in contour integration and completion. We then review classic and new image-based principles of figure-ground organization, how it is influenced by past experience and attention, and how it relates to shape and depth perception. After an integrated review of the neural mechanisms involved in contour grouping, border-ownership, and figure-ground perception, we conclude by evaluating what modern vision science has offered compared to traditional Gestalt psychology, whether we can speak of a Gestalt revival, and where the remaining limitations and challenges lie. A better integration of this research tradition with the rest of vision science requires further progress regarding the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the Gestalt approach, which will be the focus of a second review paper.
PMCID: PMC3482144  PMID: 22845751
Gestalt; grouping principles; figure-ground organization; neural mechanisms; vision science
4.  Integrating Biological Motion: The Role of Grouping in the Perception of Point-Light Actions 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e25867.
The human visual system is highly sensitive to biological motion and manages to organize even a highly reduced point-light stimulus into a vivid percept of human action. The current study investigated to what extent the origin of this saliency of point-light displays is related to its intrinsic Gestalt qualities. In particular, we studied whether biological motion perception is facilitated when the elements can be grouped according to good continuation and similarity as Gestalt principles of perceptual organization. We found that both grouping principles enhanced biological motion perception but their effects differed when stimuli were inverted. These results provide evidence that Gestalt principles of good continuity and similarity also apply to more complex and dynamic meaningful stimuli.
PMCID: PMC3185055  PMID: 21991376
5.  Bilateral Theta-Burst TMS to Influence Global Gestalt Perception 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47820.
While early and higher visual areas along the ventral visual pathway in the inferotemporal cortex are critical for the recognition of individual objects, the neural representation of human perception of complex global visual scenes remains under debate. Stroke patients with a selective deficit in the perception of a complex global Gestalt with intact recognition of individual objects – a deficit termed simultanagnosia – greatly helped to study this question. Interestingly, simultanagnosia typically results from bilateral lesions of the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). The present study aimed to verify the relevance of this area for human global Gestalt perception. We applied continuous theta-burst TMS either unilaterally (left or right) or bilateral simultaneously over TPJ. Healthy subjects were presented with hierarchically organized visual stimuli that allowed parametrical degrading of the object at the global level. Identification of the global Gestalt was significantly modulated only for the bilateral TPJ stimulation condition. Our results strengthen the view that global Gestalt perception in the human brain involves TPJ and is co-dependent on both hemispheres.
PMCID: PMC3482242  PMID: 23110106
6.  A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception II. Conceptual and Theoretical Foundations 
Psychological bulletin  2012;138(6):1218-1252.
Our first review paper on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of Gestalt psychology focused on perceptual grouping and figure-ground organization. It concluded that further progress requires a reconsideration of the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the Gestalt approach, which is provided here. In particular, we review contemporary formulations of holism within an information-processing framework, allowing for operational definitions (e.g., integral dimensions, emergent features, configural superiority, global precedence, primacy of holistic/configural properties) and a refined understanding of its psychological implications (e.g., at the level of attention, perception, and decision). We also review four lines of theoretical progress regarding the law of Prägnanz—the brain’s tendency of being attracted towards states corresponding to the simplest possible organization, given the available stimulation. The first considers the brain as a complex adaptive system and explains how self-organization solves the conundrum of trading between robustness and flexibility of perceptual states. The second specifies the economy principle in terms of optimization of neural resources, showing that elementary sensors working independently to minimize uncertainty can respond optimally at the system level. The third considers how Gestalt percepts (e.g., groups, objects) are optimal given the available stimulation, with optimality specified in Bayesian terms. Fourth, Structural Information Theory explains how a Gestaltist visual system that focuses on internal coding efficiency yields external veridicality as a side-effect. To answer the fundamental question of why things look as they do, a further synthesis of these complementary perspectives is required.
PMCID: PMC3728284  PMID: 22845750
Gestalt; holism; simplicity versus likelihood; dynamical systems; information theory
7.  Come Together, Right Now: Dynamic Overwriting of an Object’s History through Common Fate 
Journal of cognitive neuroscience  2014;26(8):1819-1828.
The objects around us constantly move and interact, and the perceptual system needs to monitor on-line these interactions and to update the object’s status accordingly. Gestalt grouping principles, such as proximity and common fate, play a fundamental role in how we perceive and group these objects. Here, we investigated situations in which the initial object representation as a separate item was updated by a subsequent Gestalt grouping cue (i.e., proximity or common fate). We used a version of the color change detection paradigm, in which the objects started to move separately, then met and stayed stationary, or moved separately, met, and then continued to move together. We monitored the object representations on-line using the contralateral delay activity (CDA; an ERP component indicative of the number of maintained objects), during their movement, and after the objects disappeared and became working memory representations. The results demonstrated that the objects’ representations (as indicated by the CDA amplitude) persisted as being separate, even after a Gestalt proximity cue (when the objects “met” and remained stationary on the same position). Only a strong common fate Gestalt cue (when the objects not just met but also moved together) was able to override the objects’ initial separate status, creating an integrated representation. These results challenge the view that Gestalt principles cause reflexive grouping. Instead, the object initial representation plays an important role that can override even powerful grouping cues.
PMCID: PMC4486205  PMID: 24564468
8.  Grouping by Proximity in Haptic Contour Detection 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65412.
We investigated the applicability of the Gestalt principle of perceptual grouping by proximity in the haptic modality. To do so, we investigated the influence of element proximity on haptic contour detection. In the course of four sessions ten participants performed a haptic contour detection task in which they freely explored a haptic random dot display that contained a contour in 50% of the trials. A contour was defined by a higher density of elements (raised dots), relative to the background surface. Proximity of the contour elements as well as the average proximity of background elements was systematically varied. We hypothesized that if proximity of contour elements influences haptic contour detection, detection will be more likely when contour elements are in closer proximity. This should be irrespective of the ratio with the proximity of the background elements. Results showed indeed that the closer the contour elements were, the higher the detection rates. Moreover, this was the case independent of the contour/background ratio. We conclude that the Gestalt law of proximity applies to haptic contour detection.
PMCID: PMC3676406  PMID: 23762364
9.  Learning to Identify Near-Acuity Letters, either with or without Flankers, Results in Improved Letter Size and Spacing Limits in Adults with Amblyopia 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35829.
Amblyopia is a developmental abnormality that results in deficits for a wide range of visual tasks, most notably, the reduced ability to see fine details, the loss in contrast sensitivity especially for small objects and the difficulty in seeing objects in clutter (crowding). The primary goal of this study was to evaluate whether crowding can be ameliorated in adults with amblyopia through perceptual learning using a flanked letter identification task that was designed to reduce crowding, and if so, whether the improvements transfer to untrained visual functions: visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and the size of visual span (the amount of information obtained in one fixation). To evaluate whether the improvements following this training task were specific to training with flankers, we also trained another group of adult observers with amblyopia using a single letter identification task that was designed to improve letter contrast sensitivity, not crowding. Following 10,000 trials of training, both groups of observers showed improvements in the respective training task. The improvements generalized to improved visual acuity, letter contrast sensitivity, size of the visual span, and reduced crowding. The magnitude of the improvement for each of these measurements was similar in the two training groups. Perceptual learning regimens aimed at reducing crowding or improving letter contrast sensitivity are both effective in improving visual acuity, contrast sensitivity for near-acuity objects and reducing the crowding effect, and could be useful as a clinical treatment for amblyopia.
PMCID: PMC3340394  PMID: 22558234
10.  Colony insularity through queen control on worker social motivation in ants. 
We investigated the relative contribution of the queen and workers to colony nestmate recognition cues and on colony insularity in the Carpenter ant Camponotus fellah. Workers were either individually isolated, preventing contact with both queen and workers (colonial deprived, CD), kept in queenless groups, allowing only worker-worker interactions (queen deprived, QD) or in queenright (QR) groups. Two weeks post-separation QD and QR workers were amicable towards each other but both rejected their CD nestmates, which suggests that the queen does not measurably influence the colony recognition cues. By contrast, aggression between QD and QR workers from the same original colony was apparent only after six months of separation. This clearly demonstrates the power of the Gestalt and indicates that the queen is not a dominant contributor to the nestmate recognition cues in this species. Aggression between nestmates was correlated with a greater hydrocarbon (HC) profile divergence for CD than for QD and QR workers, supporting the importance of worker-worker interactions in maintaining the colony Gestalt odour. While the queen does not significantly influence nestmate recognition cues, she does influence colony insularity since within 3 days QD (queenless for six months) workers from different colony origins merged to form a single queenless colony. By contrast, the corresponding QR colonies maintained their territoriality and did not merge. The originally divergent cuticular and postpharyngeal gland HC profiles became congruent following the merger. Therefore, while workers supply and blend the recognition signal, the queen affects worker-worker interaction by reducing social motivation and tolerance of alien conspecifics.
PMCID: PMC1691331  PMID: 12803913
11.  The Effect of Aging on Crowded Letter Recognition in the Peripheral Visual Field 
Crowding describes the increased difficulty in identifying a target object when it is surrounded by nearby objects (flankers). A recent study investigated the effect of age on visual crowding and found equivocal results: Although crowded visual acuity was worse in older participants, crowding expressed as a ratio did not change with age. However, the spatial extent of crowding is a better index of crowding effects and remains unknown. In the present study, we used established psychophysical methods to characterize the effect of age on visual crowding (magnitude and extent) in a letter recognition task.
Letter recognition thresholds were determined for three different flanker separations in 54 adults (aged 18–76 years) with normal vision. Additionally, the spatial extent of crowding was established by measuring spacing thresholds: the flanker-to-target separation required to produce a given reduction in performance. Uncrowded visual acuity, crowded visual acuity, and spacing thresholds were expressed as a function of age, avoiding arbitrary categorization of young and old participants.
Our results showed that uncrowded and crowded visual acuities do not change significantly as a function of age. Furthermore, spacing thresholds did not change with age and approximated Bouma's law (half eccentricity).
These data show that crowding in adults is unaffected by senescence and provide additional evidence for distinct neural mechanisms mediating surround suppression and visual crowding, since the former shows a significant age effect. Finally, our data suggest that the well-documented age-related decline in peripheral reading ability is not due to age-related changes in visual crowding.
Crowding for a peripheral letter recognition task was measured as a function of age. Both the magnitude and spatial extent of crowding did not change with age. The results have important implications for the visual rehabilitation of patients with central vision loss.
PMCID: PMC4132554  PMID: 24985476
crowding; aging; visual acuity; critical spacing; reading
12.  Relations among early object recognition skills: Objects and letters 
Human visual object recognition is multifaceted, with several domains of expertise. Developmental relations between young children's letter recognition and their 3-dimensional object recognition abilities are implicated on several grounds but have received little research attention. Here, we ask how preschoolers’ success in recognizing letters relates to their ability to recognize 3-dimensional objects from sparse shape information alone. A relation is predicted because perception of the spatial relations is critical in both domains. Seventy-three 2 ½- to 4-year-old children completed a Letter Recognition task, measuring the ability to identify a named letter among 3 letters with similar shapes, and a “Shape Caricature Recognition” task, measuring recognition of familiar objects from sparse, abstract information about their part shapes and the spatial relations among those parts. Children also completed a control “Shape Bias” task, in which success depends on recognition of overall object shape but not of relational structure. Children's success in letter recognition was positively related to their shape caricature recognition scores, but not to their shape bias scores. The results suggest that letter recognition builds upon developing skills in attending to and representing the relational structure of object shape, and that these skills are common to both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional object perception.
PMCID: PMC4426263  PMID: 25969673
shape caricatures; letter recognition; object recognition
13.  Defining the units of competition: Influences of perceptual organization on competitive interactions in human visual cortex 
Journal of cognitive neuroscience  2010;22(11):2417-2426.
Multiple stimuli that are present simultaneously in the visual field compete for neural representation. At the same time, however multiple stimuli in cluttered scenes also undergo perceptual organization according to certain rules originally defined by the Gestalt psychologists such as similarity or proximity, thereby segmenting scenes into candidate objects. How can these two seemingly orthogonal neural processes that occur early in the visual processing stream be reconciled? One possibility is that competition occurs among perceptual groups, rather than at the level of elements within a group. We probed this idea using fMRI by assessing competitive interactions across visual cortex in displays containing varying degrees of perceptual organization, or perceptual grouping (Grp). In strong Grp displays, elements were arranged such that either an illusory figure or a group of collinear elements were present, while in weak Grp displays the same elements were arranged randomly. Competitive interactions among stimuli were overcome throughout early visual cortex and V4, when elements were grouped regardless of Grp type. Our findings suggest that context-dependent grouping mechanisms and competitive interactions are linked to provide a bottom-up bias towards candidate objects in cluttered scenes.
PMCID: PMC2891594  PMID: 19925189
14.  Feasibility and Diagnostic Accuracy of Brief Health Literacy and Numeracy Screening Instruments in an Urban Emergency Department 
To evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of five health literacy screening instruments in emergency department (ED) patients: the Rapid Evaluation of Adult Literacy in Medicine-Revised (REALM-R), the Newest Vital Sign (NVS), Single Item Literacy Screens (SILS), health numeracy, and physician gestalt. A secondary objective was to evaluate the feasibility of these instruments as measured by administration time, time on task, and interruptions during test administration.
This was a prospective observational cross-sectional study of a convenience sampling of adult patients presenting during March 2011 and February 2012 to one urban university-affiliated ED. Subjects were consenting non-critically ill, English-speaking patients over the age of 18 years without aphasia, dementia, mental retardation, or inability to communicate. The diagnostic test characteristics of the REALM-R, NVS, SILS, health numeracy, and physician gestalt were quantitatively assessed by using the short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (S-TOHFLA). A score of 22 or less was the criterion standard for limited health literacy (LHL).
Four hundred thirty-five participants were enrolled, with mean age of 45 years (SD ±15.7 years) and 18% had less than a high school education. As defined by an S-TOHFLA score of 22 or less, the prevalence of LHL was 23.9%. In contrast, the NVS, REALM-R, and physician gestalt identified 64.8%, 48.5%, and 35% of participants as LHL, respectively. A normal NVS screen was the most useful test to exclude LHL, with a negative likelihood ratio of 0.04 (95% CI = 0.01 to 0.17). When abnormal, none of the screening instruments, including physician gestalt, significantly increased the post-test probability of LHL. The NVS and REALM-R require 3 and 5 minutes less time to administer than the S-TOHFLA. Administration of the REALM-R is associated with less test interruptions.
One-quarter of these ED patients had marginal or inadequate health literacy. Among the brief screening instruments evaluated, a normal Newest Vital Sign result accurately reduced the probability of limited health literacy, although it will identify two-thirds of ED patients as high-risk for limited health literacy. None of the brief screening instruments significantly increases the probability of limited health literacy when abnormal.
PMCID: PMC4042843  PMID: 24673669
15.  Reductions in tobacco smoke pollution and increases in support for smoke‐free public places following the implementation of comprehensive smoke‐free workplace legislation in the Republic of Ireland: findings from the ITC Ireland/UK Survey 
Tobacco Control  2006;15(Suppl 3):iii51-iii58.
To evaluate the psychosocial and behavioural impact of the first ever national level comprehensive workplace smoke‐free law, implemented in Ireland in March 2004.
Quasi‐experimental prospective cohort survey: parallel cohort telephone surveys of national representative samples of adult smokers in Ireland (n  =  769) and the UK (n  =  416), surveyed before the law (December 2003 to January 2004) and 8–9 months after the law (December 2004 to January 2005).
Main outcome measures
Respondents' reports of smoking in key public venues, support for total bans in those key venues, and behavioural changes due to the law.
The Irish law led to dramatic declines in reported smoking in all venues, including workplaces (62% to 14%), restaurants (85% to 3%), and bars/pubs (98% to 5%). Support for total bans among Irish smokers increased in all venues, including workplaces (43% to 67%), restaurants (45% to 77%), and bars/pubs (13% to 46%). Overall, 83% of Irish smokers reported that the smoke‐free law was a “good” or “very good” thing. The proportion of Irish homes with smoking bans also increased. Approximately 46% of Irish smokers reported that the law had made them more likely to quit. Among Irish smokers who had quit at post‐legislation, 80% reported that the law had helped them quit and 88% reported that the law helped them stay quit.
The Ireland smoke‐free law stands as a positive example of how a population‐level policy intervention can achieve its public health goals while achieving a high level of acceptance among smokers. These findings support initiatives in many countries toward implementing smoke‐free legislation, particularly those who have ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which calls for legislation to reduce tobacco smoke pollution.
PMCID: PMC2593063  PMID: 16754947
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; FCTC; tobacco smoke pollution; environmental tobacco smoke; secondhand smoke; smoke‐free laws; tobacco control policy; policy evaluation
16.  An Evaluation of Graduated Driver Licensing Effects on Fatal Crash Involvements of Young Drivers in the United States 
Traffic injury prevention  2011;12(5):423-431.
Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems are designed to reduce the high crash risk of young novice drivers. Almost all states in the United States have some form of a three-phased GDL system with various restrictions in the intermediate phase. Studies of the effects of GDL in various states show significant reductions in fatal crash involvements of 16- and 17-year-old drivers; however, only a few national studies of GDL effects have been published. The objective of this national panel study was to evaluate the effect of GDL laws on the fatal crash involvements of novice drivers while controlling for possible confounding factors not accounted for in prior studies.
The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) was used to examine 16- and 17-year-old driver involvement in fatal crashes (where GDL laws are applied) relative to two young driver age groups (19-20, 21-25) where GDL would not be expected to have an effect. Dates when various GDL laws were adopted in the states between 1990 and 2007 were coded from a variety of sources. Covariates in the longitudinal panel regression analyses conducted included four laws that could have an effect on 16- and 17-year-old drivers: primary enforcement seat belt laws, zero-tolerance (ZT) alcohol laws for drivers younger than age 21, lowering the blood alcohol concentration limit for driving to .08, and so-called “use and lose” laws where drivers aged 20 and younger lose their licenses for underage drinking violations.
The adoption of a GDL law of average strength was associated with a significant decrease in fatal crash involvements of 16- and 17-year-old drivers relative to fatal crash involvements of one of the two comparison groups. GDL laws rated as “good” showed stronger relationships to fatal crash reductions, and laws rated as “less than good” showed no reductions in crash involvements relative to the older driver comparison groups.
States that adopt a basic GDL law can expect a decrease of 8 to 14% in the proportion of 16- and 17-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes (relative to 21- to 25-year-old drivers), depending upon their other existing laws that affect novice drivers, such as those used in these analyses. This finding is consistent with recent national studies that used different outcome measures and covariates. The results of this study provide additional support for states to adopt, maintain, and upgrade GDL systems to reduce youthful traffic crash fatalities.
PMCID: PMC3597244  PMID: 21972851
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL); Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS); drivers aged 16-17; national panel study; regression analyses
17.  Averaging facial expression over time 
Journal of vision  2009;9(11):1.1-113.
The visual system groups similar features, objects, and motion (e.g., Gestalt grouping). Recent work suggests that the computation underlying perceptual grouping may be one of summary statistical representation. Summary representation occurs for low-level features, such as size, motion, and position, and even for high level stimuli, including faces; for example, observers accurately perceive the average expression in a group of faces (J. Haberman & D. Whitney, 2007, 2009). The purpose of the present experiments was to characterize the time-course of this facial integration mechanism. In a series of three experiments, we measured observers’ abilities to recognize the average expression of a temporal sequence of distinct faces. Faces were presented in sets of 4, 12, or 20, at temporal frequencies ranging from 1.6 to 21.3 Hz. The results revealed that observers perceived the average expression in a temporal sequence of different faces as precisely as they perceived a single face presented repeatedly. The facial averaging was independent of temporal frequency or set size, but depended on the total duration of exposed faces, with a time constant of ~800 ms. These experiments provide evidence that the visual system is sensitive to the ensemble characteristics of complex objects presented over time.
PMCID: PMC2857387  PMID: 20053064
vision; perception; face; object recognition; temporal integration; texture; spatial vision
18.  Higher-contrast requirements for recognizing low-pass–filtered letters 
Journal of Vision  2013;13(1):13.
Kwon and Legge (2011) found that high levels of letter recognition accuracy are possible even when letters are severely low-pass filtered (0.9 cycles per letter). How is letter recognition possible with such severe reduction in the spatial resolution of stimulus letters? Clues may come from understanding the possible interaction between contrast and spatial resolution in letter recognition. Here, we asked what the effect is on the contrast threshold for detecting and recognizing letters as the spatial-frequency cutoff of letters is reduced (in cycles per letter). We measured contrast thresholds of seven normally sighted subjects for detecting and recognizing single letters of the English alphabet. The letters were low-pass filtered with several cutoff frequencies (0.9–3.5 cycles per letter, including unfiltered letters). We found that differences in contrast thresholds between detection and recognition increased substantially with decreasing cutoff frequency. We also incorporated the human contrast sensitivity function into an ideal observer model and found qualitatively good agreement between the pattern of performance for the model and our human subjects. Our findings show that the human visual system requires higher contrast for letter recognition when spatial resolution is severely limited. Good agreement between the model and human subjects shows that the greater contrast requirement for recognizing low-pass letters is due to a reduction in the information content of the letters rather than a change in human visual processing. The reduction in stimulus information may be due to increasing stimulus similarity associated with a reduction in spatial-frequency cutoff.
PMCID: PMC3586998  PMID: 23302216
letter recognition; spatial resolution; contrast; spatial-frequency bandwidth; peripheral vision; critical bandwidth; ideal observer; contrast sensitivity function; letter similarity
19.  Top-Down Control in Contour Grouping 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54085.
Human observers tend to group oriented line segments into full contours if they follow the Gestalt rule of 'good continuation'. It is commonly assumed that contour grouping emerges automatically in early visual cortex. In contrast, recent work in animal models suggests that contour grouping requires learning and thus involves top-down control from higher brain structures. Here we explore mechanisms of top-down control in perceptual grouping by investigating synchronicity within EEG oscillations. Human participants saw two micro-Gabor arrays in a random order, with the task to indicate whether the first (S1) or the second stimulus (S2) contained a contour of collinearly aligned elements. Contour compared to non-contour S1 produced a larger posterior post-stimulus beta power (15–21 Hz). Contour S2 was associated with a pre-stimulus decrease in posterior alpha power (11–12 Hz) and in fronto-posterior theta (4–5 Hz) phase couplings, but not with a post-stimulus increase in beta power. The results indicate that subjects used prior knowledge from S1 processing for S2 contour grouping. Expanding previous work on theta oscillations, we propose that long-range theta synchrony shapes neural responses to perceptual groupings regulating lateral inhibition in early visual cortex.
PMCID: PMC3542329  PMID: 23326575
20.  Metamorphopsia and letter recognition 
Journal of Vision  2014;14(14):1.
Acuity is the most commonly used measure of visual function, and reductions in acuity are associated with most eye diseases. Metamorphopsia—a perceived distortion of visual space—is another common symptom of visual impairment and is currently assessed qualitatively using Amsler (1953) charts. In order to quantify the impact of metamorphopsia on acuity, we measured the effect of physical spatial distortion on letter recognition. Following earlier work showing that letter recognition is tuned to specific spatial frequency (SF) channels, we hypothesized that the effect of distortion might depend on the spatial scale of visual distortion just as it depends on the spatial scale of masking noise. Six normally sighted observers completed a 26 alternate forced choice (AFC) Sloan letter identification task at five different viewing distances, and the letters underwent different levels of spatial distortion. Distortion was controlled using spatially band-pass filtered noise that spatially remapped pixel locations. Noise was varied over five spatial frequencies and five magnitudes. Performance was modeled with logistic regression and worsened linearly with increasing distortion magnitude and decreasing letter size. We found that retinal SF affects distortion at midrange frequencies and can be explained with the tuning of a basic contrast sensitivity function, while object-centered distortion SF follows a similar pattern of letter object recognition sensitivity and is tuned to approximately three cycles per letter (CPL). The interaction between letter size and distortion makes acuity an unreliable outcome for metamorphopsia assessment.
PMCID: PMC4249589  PMID: 25453116
letter recognition; visual acuity; spatial vision; metamorphopsia; clinical vision; macular degeneration
21.  Gestalt-binding of tropomyosin on actin during thin filament activation 
Journal of muscle research and cell motility  2013;34(0):10.1007/s10974-013-9342-0.
Our thesis is that thin filament function can only be fully understood and muscle regulation then elucidated if atomic structures of the thin filament are available to reveal the positions of tropomyosin on actin in all physiological states. After all, it is tropomyosin influenced by troponin that regulates myosin-crossbridge cycling on actin and therefore controls contraction in all muscles. In addition, we maintain that a complete appreciation of thin filament activation also requires that the mechanical properties of tropomyosin itself are recognized and then related to the effect of myosin-association on actin. Taking the Gestalt-binding of tropomyosin into account, coupled with our electron microscopy structures and computational chemistry, we propose a comprehensive mechanism for tropomyosin regulatory movement over the actin filament surface that explains the cooperative muscle activation process. In fact, well-known point mutations of critical amino acids on the actin-tropomyosin binding interface disrupt Gestalt-binding and are associated with a number of inherited myopathies. Moreover, dysregulation of tropomyosin may also be a factor that interferes with the gatekeeping operation of non-muscle tropomyosin in the controlling interactions of a wide variety of cellular actin-binding proteins. The clinical relevance of Gestalt-binding is discussed in articles by the Marston and the Gunning groups in this special journal issue devoted to the impact of tropomyosin on biological systems.
PMCID: PMC3773262  PMID: 23666668
Actin; muscle regulation; myosin; troponin; tropomyosin
22.  Effect of Orthographic Processes on Letter Identity and Letter-Position Encoding in Dyslexic Children 
The ability to identify letters and encode their position is a crucial step of the word recognition process. However and despite their word identification problem, the ability of dyslexic children to encode letter identity and letter-position within strings was not systematically investigated. This study aimed at filling this gap and further explored how letter identity and letter-position encoding is modulated by letter context in developmental dyslexia. For this purpose, a letter-string comparison task was administered to French dyslexic children and two chronological age (CA) and reading age (RA)-matched control groups. Children had to judge whether two successively and briefly presented four-letter strings were identical or different. Letter-position and letter identity were manipulated through the transposition (e.g., RTGM vs. RMGT) or substitution of two letters (e.g., TSHF vs. TGHD). Non-words, pseudo-words, and words were used as stimuli to investigate sub-lexical and lexical effects on letter encoding. Dyslexic children showed both substitution and transposition detection problems relative to CA-controls. A substitution advantage over transpositions was only found for words in dyslexic children whereas it extended to pseudo-words in RA-controls and to all type of items in CA-controls. Letters were better identified in the dyslexic group when belonging to orthographically familiar strings. Letter-position encoding was very impaired in dyslexic children who did not show any word context effect in contrast to CA-controls. Overall, the current findings point to a strong letter identity and letter-position encoding disorder in developmental dyslexia.
PMCID: PMC3356879  PMID: 22661961
letter-string processing; letter-position encoding; letter-identity encoding; letter transposition; letter substitution; reading acquisition; dyslexic children
23.  The influence of reading expertise in mirror-letter perception: Evidence from beginning and expert readers 
The visual word recognition system recruits neuronal systems originally developed for object perception which are characterized by orientation insensitivity to mirror reversals. It has been proposed that during reading acquisition beginning readers have to “unlearn” this natural tolerance to mirror reversals in order to efficiently discriminate letters and words. Therefore, it is supposed that this unlearning process takes place in a gradual way and that reading expertise modulates mirror-letter discrimination. However, to date no supporting evidence for this has been obtained. We present data from an eye-movement study that investigated the degree of sensitivity to mirror-letters in a group of beginning readers and a group of expert readers. Participants had to decide which of the two strings presented on a screen corresponded to an auditorily presented word. Visual displays always included the correct target word and one distractor word. Results showed that those distractors that were the same as the target word except for the mirror lateralization of two internal letters attracted participants’ attention more than distractors created by replacement of two internal letters. Interestingly, the time course of the effects was found to be different for the two groups, with beginning readers showing a greater tolerance (decreased sensitivity) to mirror-letters than expert readers. Implications of these findings are discussed within the framework of preceding evidence showing how reading expertise modulates letter identification.
PMCID: PMC3836404  PMID: 24273596
24.  Autistic autobiography 
Autism narratives are not just stories or histories, describing a given reality. They are creating the language in which to describe the experience of autism, and hence helping to forge the concepts in which to think autism. This paper focuses on a series of autobiographies that began with Grandin's Emergence. These are often said to show us autism from the ‘inside’. The paper proposes that instead they are developing ways to describe experience for which there is little pre-existing language. Wittgenstein has many well-known aphorisms about how we understand other people directly, without inference. They condense what he had found in Wolfgang Köhler's Gestalt Psychology. These phenomena of direct understanding what other people are doing are, Köhler wrote, ‘the common property and practice of mankind'. They are not the common property and practice of people with autism. Ordinary language is rich in age-old ways to describe what others are thinking, feeling and so forth. Köhler's phenomena are the bedrock on which such language rests. There is no such discourse for autism, because Köhler's phenomena are absent. But a new discourse is being made up right now, i.e. ways of talking for which the autobiographies serve as working prototypes.
PMCID: PMC2677587  PMID: 19528032
Köhler; Wittgenstein; Grandin; Donna Williams; Mukhopadhyay; Tammet
25.  Structured Printed Referral Letter (Form Letter); Saves Time and Improves Communication 
Referral of patients to hospitals, specialists and other institutions is an essential part of primary health care. Patients are referred to specialists when investigation or therapeutic options are exhausted in primary care or when opinion or advice is needed from them. Referral has considerable implications for patients, health care system and health care costs. Good communication between primary and secondary care is essential for the smooth running of any health care system. Referral and reply letters are the sole means of communication between doctors most of the time and breakdown in communication could lead to poor continuity of care, delayed diagnoses, polypharmacy, increased litigation risk and unnecessary testing. A referral letter also helps to avoid patient dissatisfaction and loss of confidence in family physician. Studies of referral letters have reported that specialists are dissatisfied with their quality and content. Inclusion of letter writing skills in the medical curriculum, peer assessment and feedback have shown to improve the quality of referral letters. Form letters have shown to enhance information content and communication in referral process. In Sri Lanka referral letters are usually hand written and frequent complaints are that these letters do not contain adequate information and retrieval of information is a problem due to poor legibility and clarity. Sometimes Primary care doctors refer patients to hospitals and specialists with only verbal instructions. To address these short comings this form letter was introduced. Based on the guidelines and systematic review of published articles, items of information to be included were decided. Printed forms of the letter are kept in the practice and the doctor has to just fill up relevant information under each heading. The objectives of introducing this structured referral letter was to improve the quality and standard of referral letters and save time for both general practitioners and specialists.
PMCID: PMC3894031  PMID: 24479068
Referral letters; communications between GP and specialist; structured referral forms; general practice

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