In a previous study, Chung, Legge & Cheung (2004) showed that training using repeated presentation of trigrams (sequences of three random letters) resulted in an increase in the size of the visual span (number of letters recognized in a glance) and reading speed in the normal periphery. In this study, we asked whether we could optimize the benefit of trigram training on reading speed by using trigrams more specific to the reading task (i.e. trigrams frequently used in the English language) and presenting them according to their frequencies of occurrence in normal English usage and observers’ performance. Averaged across seven observers, our training paradigm (four days of training) increased the size of the visual span by 6.44 bits, with an accompanied 63.6% increase in the maximum reading speed, compared with the values before training. However, these benefits were not statistically different from those of Chung et al (2004) using a random-trigram training paradigm. Our findings confirm the possibility of increasing the size of the visual span and reading speed in the normal periphery with perceptual learning, and suggest that the benefits of training on letter recognition and maximum reading speed may not be linked to the types of letter strings presented during training.
We examined the effects of the spatial complexity of flankers and target-flanker similarity on the performance of identifying crowded letters. On each trial, observers identified the middle character of random strings of three characters (“trigrams”) briefly presented at 10° below fixation. We tested the 26 lowercase letters of the Times-Roman and Courier fonts, a set of 79 characters (letters and non-letters) of the Times-Roman font, and the uppercase letters of two highly complex ornamental fonts, Edwardian and Aristocrat. Spatial complexity of characters was quantified by the length of the morphological skeleton of each character, and target-flanker similarity was defined based on a psychometric similarity matrix. Our results showed that (1) letter identification error rate increases with flanker complexity up to a certain value, beyond which error rate becomes independent of flanker complexity; (2) the increase of error rate is slower for high-complexity target letters; (3) error rate increases with target-flanker similarity; and (4) mislocation error rate increases with target-flanker similarity. These findings, combined with the current understanding of the faulty feature integration account of crowding, provide some constraints of how the feature integration process could cause perceptual errors.
crowding; spatial vision; letter recognition; object recognition; reading
Little is known about the systematic impact of blur on reading performance. The purpose of this study was to quantify the effect of dioptric blur on reading performance in a group of normally sighted young adults. We measured monocular reading performance and visual acuity for 19 observers with normal vision, for five levels of optical blur (no blur, 0.5, 1, 2 and 3D). Dioptric blur was induced using convex trial lenses placed in front of the testing eye, with the pupil dilated and in the presence of a 3 mm artificial pupil. Reading performance was assessed using eight versions of the MNREAD Acuity Chart. For each level of dioptric blur, observers read aloud sentences on one of these charts, from large to small print. Reading time for each sentence and the number of errors made were recorded and converted to reading speed in words per minute. Visual acuity was measured using 4-orientation Landolt C stimuli. For all levels of dioptric blur, reading speed increased with print size up to a certain print size and then remained constant at the maximum reading speed. By fitting nonlinear mixed-effects models, we found that the maximum reading speed was minimally affected by blur up to 2D, but was ~23% slower for 3D of blur. When the amount of blur increased from 0 (no-blur) to 3D, the threshold print size (print size corresponded to 80% of the maximum reading speed) increased from 0.01 to 0.88 logMAR, reading acuity worsened from −0.16 to 0.58 logMAR, and visual acuity worsened from −0.19 to 0.64 logMAR. The similar rates of change with blur for threshold print size, reading acuity and visual acuity implicates that visual acuity is a good predictor of threshold print size and reading acuity. Like visual acuity, reading performance is susceptible to the degrading effect of optical blur. For increasing amount of blur, larger print sizes are required to attain the maximum reading speed.
reading; blur; defocus
Performance for discriminating single mirror -image letters in peripheral vision can be as good as that in central vision, provided that letter size is scaled appropriately (Higgins, Arditi & Knoblauch, 1996 Vision Research). In this study, we asked whether or not there is a reduction in performance for discriminating mirror -image letters when the letters are flanked closely by other letters, compared with unflanked (single) letters; and if so, whether or not this effect is greater in peripheral than in central vision. We compared contrast thresholds for detecting and identifying mirror -image letters “b” and “d” for a range of letter separations, at the fovea and 10° eccentricity, for letters that were scaled in size. For comparison, thresholds were also determined for a pair of non - mirror-image letters “o” and “x”. Our principal finding is that there is an additional loss in sensitivity for identifying mirror -image letters (“bd”), compared with non - mirror-image letters (“ox”), when the letters are flanked closely by other letters. The effect is greater in peripheral than central vision. An auxiliary experiment comparing thresholds for letters “d” and “q” vs. “b” and “d” shows that the additional loss in sensitivity for identifying crowded mirror -image letters cannot be attributed to the similarity in letter features between the two letters, but instead, is specific to the axis of symmetry. Our results suggest that in the presence of proximal objects, there is a specific loss in sensitivity for processing broad -band left-right mirror images in peripheral vision.
Crowding; letter identification; mirror images
Accurate reading of words and text relies on reliable identification of letters in left to right order. Previous studies have shown that people often make letter-reversal errors when identifying strings of letters away from fixation. These errors contribute to a decline in letter identification performance away from fixation. This study tests the hypothesis that these errors are due to decreased precision (increased position noise) in the coding of letter position in the periphery. To test our hypothesis, we measured observers' performance for identifying pairs of adjacent letters presented within 8 letter positions left and right of fixation. The task was to name the two letters of each pair, from left to right. Responses were scored in two ways for each letter position: (1) letters were identified correctly and in the correct position, and (2) letters were identified correctly but in the wrong position. The ratio of these two scores, when subtracted from 1, gives the empirical rate of mislocation errors. Our primary finding shows that the coding of letter position becomes increasingly imprecise with distance from fixation. A model in which the encoded position of each letter is independent and Gaussian distributed, and in which the spread of the distribution governs the precision of localizing the letter accounts for the empirical rate of mislocation errors. We also found that precision of letter position coding scales with letter size but the precision does not improve with the use of a pre-cue.
Local signs; letter reversals; letter mislocations; crowding; letter identification; pattern vision
We assessed whether or not the sensitivity for identifying luminance-defined and contrast-defined letters improved with training in a group of amblyopic observers who have passed the critical period of development. In Experiment 1, we tracked the contrast threshold for identifying luminance-defined letters with training in a group of 11 amblyopic observers. Following training, six observers showed a reduction in thresholds, averaging 20%, for identifying luminance-defined letters. This improvement transferred extremely well to the untrained task of identifying contrast-defined letters (average improvement = 38%) but did not transfer to an acuity measurement. Seven of the 11 observers were subsequently trained on identifying contrast-defined letters in Experiment 2. Following training, five of these seven observers demonstrated a further improvement, averaging 17%, for identifying contrast-defined letters. This improvement did not transfer to the untrained task of identifying luminance-defined letters. Our findings are consistent with predictions based on the locus of learning for first- and second-order stimuli according to the filter-rectifier-filter model for second-order visual processing.
Amblyopia; Perceptual learning; Training; First-order; Second-order; Letter recognition
Performance for identifying luminance-defined letters in peripheral vision improves with training. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether performance for identifying contrast-defined letters also improves with training in peripheral vision, and whether any improvement transfers to luminance-defined letters. Eight observers were trained to identify contrast-defined letters presented singly at 10° eccentricity in the inferior visual field. Before and after training, we measured observers’ thresholds for identifying luminance-defined and contrast-defined letters, embedded within a field of white luminance noise (maximum luminance contrast = 0, 0.25, and 0.5), at the same eccentric location. Each training session consisted of 10 blocks (100 trials per block) of identifying contrast-defined letters at a background noise contrast of 0.5. Letters (x-height = 4.2°) were the 26 lowercase letters of the Times-Roman alphabet. Luminance-defined letters were generated by introducing a luminance difference between the stimulus letter and its mid-gray background. The background noise covered both the letter and its background. Contrast-defined letters were generated by introducing a differential noise contrast between the group of pixels that made up the stimulus letter and the group of pixels that made up the background. Following training, observers showed a significant reduction in threshold for identifying contrast-defined letters (p < 0.0001). Averaged across observers and background noise contrasts, the reduction was 25.8%, with the greatest reduction (32%) occurring at the trained background noise contrast. There was virtually no transfer of improvement to luminance-defined letters, or to an untrained letter size (2× original), or an untrained retinal location (10° superior field). In contrast, learning transferred completely to the untrained contralateral eye. Our results show that training improves performance for identifying contrast-defined letters in peripheral vision. This perceptual learning effect seems to be stimulus-specific, as it shows no transfer to the identification of luminance-defined letters. The complete interocular transfer, and the retinotopic (retinal location) and size specificity of the learning effect are consistent with the properties of neurons in early visual area V2.
Letter recognition; Peripheral vision; Perceptual learning; Second-order
Performance for a variety of visual tasks improves with practice. The purpose of this study was to determine the nature of the processes underlying perceptual learning of identifying letters in peripheral vision. To do so, we tracked changes in contrast thresholds for identifying single letters presented at 10° in the inferior visual field, over a period of six consecutive days. The letters (26 lowercase Times-Roman letters, subtending 1.7°) were embedded within static two-dimensional Gaussian luminance noise, with rms contrast ranging from 0% (no noise) to 20%. We also measured the observers’ response consistency using a double-pass method on days 1, 3 and 6, by testing two additional blocks on each of these days at luminance noise of 3% and 20%. These additional blocks were the exact replicates of the corresponding block at the same noise contrast that was tested on the same day. We analyzed our results using both the linear amplifier model (LAM) and the perceptual template model (PTM). Our results showed that following six days of training, the overall reduction (improvement across all noise levels) in contrast threshold for our seven observers averaged 21.6% (range: 17.2–31%). Despite fundamental differences between LAM and PTM, both models show that learning leads to an improvement of the perceptual template (filter) such that the template is more capable of extracting the crucial information from the signal. Results from both the PTM analysis and the double-pass experiment imply that the stimulus-dependent component of the internal noise does not change with learning.
Perceptual learning; Training; Letter identification; Peripheral vision
To test whether first- and second-order stimuli are processed independently in amblyopic vision, we measured thresholds for identifying a target letter flanked by two letters for all combinations of first- and second-order targets and flankers. We found that (1) the magnitude of crowding is greater for second- than for first-order letters for target and flankers of the same order type; (2) substantial but asymmetric cross-over crowding occurs such that stronger crowding is found for a second-order letter flanked by first-order letters than for the converse; (3) the spatial extent of crowding is independent of the order type of the letters. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that crowding results from an abnormal integration of target and flankers beyond the stage of feature detection, which takes place over a large distance in amblyopic vision.
amblyopia; crowding; first order; second order; letter identification
The perceived position of a stationary Gaussian window of a Gabor target shifts in the direction of motion of the Gabor’s carrier stimulus, implying the presence of interactions between the specialized visual areas that encode form, position and motion. The purpose of this study was to examine the temporal and spatial properties of this illusory motion-induced position shift (MIPS). We measured the magnitude of the MIPS for a pair of horizontally separated (2 or 8°) truncated-Gabor stimuli (carrier = 1 or 4 cpd sinusoidal grating, Gaussian envelope SD = 18 arc min, 50% contrast) or a pair of Gaussian windowed random-texture patterns that drifted vertically in opposite directions. The magnitude of the MIPS was measured for drift speeds up to 16 deg/s and for stimulus durations up to 453 ms. The temporal properties of the MIPS depended on the drift speed. At low velocities, the magnitude of the MIPS increased monotonically with the stimulus duration. At higher velocities, the magnitude of the MIPS increased with duration initially, then decreased between approximately 45 and 75 ms before rising to reach a steady state value at longer durations. In general, the magnitude of the MIPS was larger when the truncated-Gabor or random-texture stimuli were more spatially separated, but was similar for the different types of carrier stimuli. Our results are consistent with a framework that suggests that perceived form is modulated dynamically during stimulus motion.
Motion-form interaction; perceived position; dynamics of form perception; illusion
Visual-span profiles are plots of letter-recognition accuracy as a function of letter position left or right of the midline. Previously, we have shown that contraction of these profiles in peripheral vision can account for slow reading speed in peripheral vision. In this study, we asked two questions: (1) can we modify visual-span profiles through training on letter-recognition, and if so, (2) are these changes accompanied by changes in reading speed? Eighteen normally sighted observers were randomly assigned to one of three groups: training at 10° in the upper visual field, training at 10° in the lower visual field and a no-training control group. We compared observers’ characteristics of reading (maximum reading speed and critical print size) and visual-span profiles (peak amplitude and bits of information transmitted) before and after training, and at trained and untrained retinal locations (10° upper and lower visual fields). Reading speeds were measured for six print sizes at each retinal location, using the rapid serial visual presentation paradigm. Visual-span profiles were measured using a trigram letter-recognition task, for a letter size equivalent to 1.4 × the critical print size for reading. Training consisted of the repeated measurement of 20 visual-span profiles (over four consecutive days) in either the upper or lower visual field. We also tracked the changes in performance in a sub-group of observers for up to three months following training. We found that the visual-span profiles can be expanded (bits of information transmitted increased by 6 bits) through training with a letter-recognition task, and that there is an accompanying increase (41%) in the maximum reading speed. These improvements transferred, to a large extent, from the trained to an untrained retinal location, and were retained, to a large extent, for at least three months following training. Our results are consistent with the view that the visual span is a bottleneck on reading speed, but a bottleneck that can be increased with practice.
Reading; Letter-recognition; Peripheral vision; Perceptual learning; Low vision; Visual rehabilitation
When the eyes move, the images of stationary objects sweep across the retina. Despite this motion of the retinal image and the substantial integration of visual signals across time, physically stationary objects typically do not appear to be smeared during eye movements. Previous studies indicated that the extent of perceived motion smear is smaller when a stationary target is presented during pursuit or saccadic eye movements than when comparable motion of the retinal image occurs during steady fixation. In this study, we compared the extent of perceived motion smear for a stationary target during smooth pursuit and vergence eye movements with that for a physically moving target during fixation. For a target duration of 100 ms or longer, perceived motion smear is substantially less when the motion of the retinal image results from vergence or pursuit eye movements than when it results from the motion of a target during fixation. The reduced extent of perceived motion smear during eye movements compared to fixation cannot be accounted for by different spatio-temporal interactions between visual targets or by unequal attention to the moving test spot under these two types of conditions. We attribute the highly similar attenuation of perceived smear during vergence and pursuit to a comparable action of the extra-retinal signals for disjunctive and conjugate eye movements.
Vergence; Smooth pursuit; Motion; Motion blur; Extra-retinal signals
Crowding refers to the increased diffculty in identifying a letter flanked by other letters. The purpose of this study was to determine if the peak sensitivity of the human visual system shifts to a different spatial frequency when identifying crowded letters, compared with single letters. We measured contrast thresholds for identifying the middle target letters in trigrams, for a range of spatial frequencies, letter separations and letter sizes, at the fovea and 5° eccentricity. Plots of contrast sensitivity vs. letter frequency exhibit spatial tuning, for all letter sizes and letter separations tested. The peak tuning frequency grows as the 0.6–0.7 power of the letter size, independent of letter separation. At the smallest letter separation, peak tuning frequency occurs at a frequency that is 0.17 octaves higher for flanked than for unflanked letters at the fovea, and 0.19 octaves at 5° eccentricity. This finding suggests that the human visual system shifts its sensitivity toward a higher spatial-frequency channel when identifying letters in the presence of nearby letters. However, the size of the shift is insuffcient to account for the large effect of crowding in the periphery.
Crowding; Letter identification; Spatial frequency channel; Spatial scale shift
Crowding, the difficulty in identifying a letter embedded in other letters, has been suggested as an explanation for slow reading in peripheral vision. In this study, we asked whether crowding in peripheral vision can be reduced through training on identifying crowded letters, and if so, whether these changes will lead to improved peripheral reading speed. We measured the spatial extent of crowding, and reading speeds for a range of print sizes at 10° inferior visual field before and after training. Following training, averaged letter identification performance improved by 88% at the trained (the closest) letter separation. The improvement transferred to other untrained separations such that the spatial extent of crowding decreased by 38%. However, averaged maximum reading speed improved by a mere 7.2%. These findings demonstrated that crowding in peripheral vision could be reduced through training. Unfortunately, the reduction in the crowding effect did not lead to improved peripheral reading speed.
crowding; perceptual learning; training; reading
Amblyopes show specific deficits in processing second-order spatial
information (e.g. Wong, Levi, & McGraw
(2001). Is second-order spatial loss in amblyopia explained by the
loss of first-order spatial input? Vision Research, 41,
2951–2960). Recent work suggests there is a significant degree of
plasticity in the visual pathway that processes first-order spatial information
in adults with amblyopia. In this study, we asked whether or not there is
similar plasticity in the ability to process second-order spatial information in
adults with amblyopia. Ten adult observers with amblyopia (five strabismic, four
anisometropic and one mixed) were trained to identify contrast-defined
(second-order) letters using their amblyopic eyes. Before and after training, we
determined observers’ contrast thresholds for identifying
luminance-defined (first-order) and contrast-defined letters, separately for the
non-amblyopic and amblyopic eyes. Following training, eight of the 10 observers
showed a significant reduction in contrast thresholds for identifying
contrast-defined letters with the amblyopic eye. Five of these observers also
showed a partial transfer of improvement to their fellow untrained non-amblyopic
eye for identifying contrast-defined letters. There was a small but
statistically significant transfer to the untrained task of identifying
luminance-defined letters in the same trained eye. Similar to first-order
spatial tasks, adults with amblyopia benefit from perceptual learning for
identifying contrast-defined letters in their amblyopic eyes, suggesting a
sizeable degree of plasticity in the visual pathway for processing second-order
Amblyopia; Letter recognition; Perceptual learning; Second-order
Crowding, the difficulty in recognizing a letter in close proximity with other letters, has been suggested as an explanation for slow reading in people with central vision loss. The goals of this study were (1) to examine whether increased letter spacing in words, which presumably reduces crowding among letters, would benefit reading for people with central vision loss; and (2) to relate our finding to the current account of faulty feature integration of crowding.
Fourteen observers with central vision loss read aloud single sentences, one word at a time, using rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). Reading speeds were calculated based on the RSVP exposure durations yielding 80% accuracy. Letters were rendered in Courier, a fixed-width font. Observers were tested at 1.4× the critical print size (CPS), three were also tested at 0.8× CPS. Reading speed was measured for five center-to-center letter spacings (range: 0.5–2× the standard spacing). The preferred retinal locus (PRL) for fixation was determined for nine of the observers, from which we calculated the horizontal dimension of the integration field for crowding.
All observers showed increased reading speed with letter spacing for small spacings, until an optimal spacing, beyond which reading speed either showed a plateau, or dropped as letter spacing further increased. The optimal spacing averaged 0.95±0.06× [±95%CI] the standard spacing for 1.4× CPS (similar for 0.8× CPS), which was not different from the standard. When converted to angular size, the measured values of the optimal letter spacing for reading show a good relationship with the calculated horizontal dimension of the integration field.
Increased letter spacing beyond the standard size, which presumably reduces crowding among letters in text, does not improve reading speed for people with central vision loss. The optimal letter spacing for reading can be predicted based on the PRL.
reading; crowding; central vision loss; low vision; age-related macular degeneration
Reading speed matters in most real-world contexts, and it is a robust and easy aspect of reading to measure. Theories of reading should account for speed.
Word reading speed in peripheral vision is slower when words are in close proximity of other words (Chung, 2004). This word crowding effect could arise as a consequence of interaction of low-level letter features between words, or the interaction between high-level holistic representations of words. We evaluated these two hypotheses by examining how word crowding changes for five configurations of flanking words: the control condition — flanking words were oriented upright; scrambled — letters in each flanking word were scrambled in order; horizontal-flip — each flanking word was the left-right mirror-image of the original; letter-flip — each letter of the flanking word was the left-right mirror-image of the original; and vertical-flip — each flanking word was the up-down mirror-image of the original. The low-level letter feature interaction hypothesis predicts similar word crowding effect for all the different flanker configurations, while the high-level holistic representation hypothesis predicts less word crowding effect for all the alternative flanker conditions, compared with the control condition. We found that oral reading speed for words flanked above and below by other words, measured at 10° eccentricity in the nasal field, showed the same dependence on the vertical separation between the target and its flanking words, for the various flanker configurations. The result was also similar when we rotated the flanking words by 90° to disrupt the periodic vertical pattern, which presumably is the main structure in words. The remarkably similar word crowding effect irrespective of the flanker configurations suggests that word crowding arises as a consequence of interactions of low-level letter features.
crowding; word recognition; peripheral vision; features; holistic representation
Difficulty identifying faces is a common complaint of people with central vision loss. Dakin and Watt (2009) reported that the horizontal components of face images are most informative for face identification in normal vision. In this study, we examined whether people with central vision loss similarly rely primarily on the horizontal components of face images for face identification.
Seven observers with central vision loss (mean age = 69 ± 9 [SD]) and five age-matched observers with normal vision (mean age = 65 ± 6) participated in the study. We measured observers’ accuracy for reporting the identity of face images spatially filtered using an orientation filter with center orientation ranging from 0° (horizontal) to 150° in steps of 30°, with a bandwidth of 23°. Face images without filtering were also tested.
For all observers, accuracy for identifying filtered face images was highest around the horizontal orientation, dropping systematically as the filter orientation deviated systematically from horizontal, and was the lowest at the vertical orientation. Compared with control observers, observers with central vision loss showed (1) a larger difference in accuracy between identifying filtered (at peak performance) and unfiltered face images; (2) a reduced accuracy at peak performance and (3) a smaller difference in performance for identifying filtered images between the horizontal and the vertical filter orientation.
Spatial information around the horizontal orientation in face images is the most important for face identification, for people with normal vision and central vision loss alike. While the horizontal information alone can support reasonably good performance for identifying faces in people in normal vision, people with central vision loss seem to also rely on information along other orientations.
low vision; spatial vision; psychophysics; face identification; central vision loss
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.
In persons with infantile nystagmus (IN), visual acuity correlates with the duration of the foveation period of the nystagmus waveform, i.e., when the retinal image is on or near the fovea and moves with low velocity. In this study, we asked how acuity is affected by the non-foveating phases of the nystagmus waveform, when the velocity of retinal image motion is substantially higher.
Visual acuity was measured in three normal observers for high-contrast, 4-orientation Ts, presented during image motion that simulated either the whole jerk-IN waveform (whole-waveform) or only the foveation periods of the IN waveform (foveation-only). Simulated foveation durations ranged from 20 to 120 ms. For both motion waveforms, we displayed the acuity target for different number of cycles to examine if acuity benefits from multiple presentations of the stimulus.
As expected, visual acuity improves with longer simulated foveation durations in both the whole-waveform and foveation-only conditions. Acuity is consistently better (by approximately 0.1 logMAR) in the foveation-only than the whole-waveform condition, indicating that the high-velocity image motion during the simulated IN waveform has a detrimental effect. This difference in acuity between the two waveform conditions increases with the number of cycles, apparently because summation occurs across cycles in the foveation-only condition but not in the whole-waveform condition.
In normal observers, visual acuity in the presence of a simulated nystagmus waveform is limited not only by the duration of the foveation periods, but also by the non-foveating phases of the waveform. However, because persons with IN report little or no motion smear in association with their nystagmus, it remains unclear whether the rapid retinal image motion during the non-foveating phases of the nystagmus waveform generates a similar degradation of visual acuity in IN.
image motion; visual acuity; temporal summation; probability summation; infantile nystagmus; foveation period
Patients with central vision loss showed a substantial improvement in reading speed after six sessions of perceptual learning. Perceptual learning might be an effective way of enhancing visual performance for people with central vision loss.
Perceptual learning has been shown to be effective in improving visual functions in the normal adult visual system, as well as in adults with amblyopia. In this study, the feasibility of applying perceptual learning to enhance reading speed in people with long-standing central vision loss was evaluated.
Six observers (mean age, 73.8) with long-standing central vision loss practiced an oral sentence-reading task, with words presented sequentially using rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). A pre-test consisted of measurements of visual acuities, RSVP reading speeds for six print sizes, the location of the preferred retinal locus for fixation (fPRL), and fixation stability. Training consisted of six weekly sessions of RSVP reading, with 300 sentences presented per session. A post-test, identical with the pre-test, followed the training.
All observers showed improved RSVP reading speed after training. The improvement averaged 53% (range, 34–70%). Comparisons of pre- and post-test measurements revealed little changes in visual acuity, critical print size, location of the fPRL, and fixation stability.
The specificity of the learning effect, and the lack of changes to the fPRL location and fixation stability suggest that the improvements are not due to observers adopting a retinal location with better visual capability, or an improvement in fixation. Rather, the improvements are likely to represent genuine plasticity of the visual system despite the older ages of the observers, coupled with long-standing sensory deficits. Perceptual learning might be an effective way of enhancing visual performance for people with central vision loss.
Crowding is a prominent phenomenon in peripheral vision where nearby objects impede one’s ability to identify a target of interest. The precise mechanism of crowding is not known. We used ideal observer analysis and a noise-masking paradigm to identify the functional mechanism of crowding. We tested letter identification in the periphery with and without flanking letters and found that crowding increases equivalent input noise and decreases sampling efficiency. Crowding effectively causes the signal from the target to be noisier and at the same time reduces the visual system’s ability to make use of a noisy signal. After practicing identification of flanked letters without noise in the periphery for 6 days, subjects’ performance for identifying flanked letters improved (reduction of crowding). Across subjects, the improvement was attributable to either a decrease in crowding-induced equivalent input noise or an increase in sampling efficiency, but seldom both. This pattern of results is consistent with a simple model whereby learning reduces crowding by adjusting the spatial extent of a perceptual window used to gather relevant input features. Following learning, subjects with inappropriately large windows reduced their window sizes; while subjects with inappropriately small windows increased their window sizes. The improvement in equivalent input noise and sampling efficiency persists for at least 6 months.
peripheral vision; crowding; perceptual learning; ideal observer analysis
Enhancing reading ability in peripheral vision is important for the rehabilitation of people with central-visual-field loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Previous research has shown that perceptual learning, based on a trigram letter-recognition task, improved peripheral reading speed among normally-sighted young adults (Chung, Legge & Cheung, 2004). Here we ask whether the same happens in older adults in an age range more typical of the onset of AMD. Eighteen normally-sighted subjects, aged 55 to 76 years, were randomly assigned to training or control groups. Visual-span profiles (plots of letter-recognition accuracy as a function of horizontal letter position) and RSVP reading speeds were measured at 10° above and below fixation during pre- and post-tests for all subjects. Training consisted of repeated measurements of visual-span profiles at 10° below fixation, in 4 daily sessions. The control subjects did not receive any training. Perceptual learning enlarged the visual spans in both trained (lower) and untrained (upper) visual fields. Reading speed improved in the trained field by 60% when the trained print size was used. The training benefits for these older subjects were weaker than the training benefits for young adults found by Chung et al. Despite the weaker training benefits, perceptual learning remains a potential option for low-vision reading rehabilitation among older adults.