People with central vision loss often prefer boldface print over normal print for reading. However, little is known about how reading speed is influenced by the letter-stroke boldness of font. In this study, we examined the reliance of reading speed on stroke boldness, and determined whether this reliance differs between the normal central and peripheral vision. Reading speed was measured using the rapid serial visual presentation paradigm, where observers with normal vision read aloud short single sentences presented on a computer monitor, one word at a time. Text was rendered in Courier at six levels of boldness, defined as the stroke-width normalized to that of the standard Courier font: 0.27, 0.72, 1, 1.48, 1.89 and 3.04× the standard. Testings were conducted at the fovea and 10° in the inferior visual field. Print sizes used were 0.8× and 1.4× the critical print size (smallest print size that can be read at the maximum reading speed). At the fovea, reading speed was invariant for the middle four levels of boldness, but dropped by 23.3% for the least and the most bold text. At 10° eccentricity, reading speed was virtually the same for all boldness <1, but showed a poorer tolerance to bolder text, dropping by 21.5% for 1.89x boldness and 51% for the most bold (3.04x) text. These results could not be accounted for by the changes in print size or the RMS contrast of text associated with changes in stroke boldness. Our results suggest that contrary to the popular belief, reading speed does not benefit from bold text in the normal fovea and periphery. Excessive increase in stroke boldness may even impair reading speed, especially in the periphery.
Reading; stroke boldness; peripheral vision
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
Fixation stability is known to be poor for people with macular disease and has been suggested as a contributing factor for the poor visual performance of these individuals. In this study, we examined the characteristics of the different components of fixational eye movements and determined the component that plays a major role in limiting fixation stability in people with macular disease.
Sixteen observers with macular disease and 14 older adults with normal vision (control observers) monocularly fixated a small cross presented using a Rodenstock scanning laser ophthalmoscope, for trials of 30 seconds. The retinal image and the position of the cross on the retina were recorded digitally. Eye movements were extracted from the recorded videos at a sampling rate of 540 Hz using a cross-correlation technique. A velocity criterion of 8°/s was used to differentiate between slow drifts and microsaccades.
Observers with macular disease demonstrated higher fixation instability, larger amplitudes of slow drifts and microsaccades, and lower drift velocities, when compared with older adults with normal vision. The velocity and the rate of microsaccades were comparable between the two groups of observers. Multiple linear regression analysis showed that the amplitude of microsaccades, and to a smaller extent, the amplitude of slow drifts, play a major role in limiting fixation stability.
Fixation stability in people with macular disease is primarily limited by the amplitude of microsaccades, implying that rehabilitative strategies targeted at reducing the amplitude of microsaccades should improve fixation stability, and may lead to improved visual functions.
Amplitude of microsaccades plays a major role in limiting fixation stability in people with macular disease.
fixational eye movements; fixation stability; low vision; macular disease
Several recent studies have shown that perceptual learning can result in improvements in reading speed for people with macular disease (e.g., Chung, 2011; Tarita-Nistor et al., 2014). The improvements were reported as an increase in reading speed defined by specific criteria; however, little is known about how other properties of the reading performance or the participants' perceptual responses change as a consequence of learning. In this paper, we performed detailed analyses of data following perceptual learning using an RSVP (rapid serial visual presentation) reading task, looking beyond the change in reading speed defined by the threshold at a given accuracy on a psychometric function relating response accuracy with word exposure duration. Specifically, we explored the statistical characteristics of the response data to address two specific questions: was there a change in the slope of the psychometric function and did the improvements in performance occur consistently across different word exposure durations? Our results show that there is a general steepening of the slope of the psychometric function, leading to non-uniform improvements across stimulus levels.
perceptual learning; reading; rapid serial visual presentation; central vision loss; psychometric functions
Reading speed for English text is slower for text oriented vertically than horizontally. Yu, Park, Gerold, and Legge (2010) showed that slower reading of vertical text is associated with a smaller visual span (the number of letters recognized with high accuracy without moving the eyes). Three possible sensory determinants of the size of the visual span are: resolution (decreasing acuity at letter positions farther from the midline), mislocations (uncertainty about the relative position of letters in strings), and crowding (interference from flanking letters in recognizing the target letter). In the present study, we asked which of these factors is most important in determining the size of the visual span, and likely in turn in determining the horizontal/vertical difference in reading when letter size is above the critical print size for reading. We used a decomposition analysis to represent constraints due to resolution, mislocations, and crowding as losses in information transmitted (in bits) about letter recognition. Across vertical and horizontal conditions, crowding accounted for 75% of the loss in information, mislocations accounted for 19% of the loss, and declining acuity away from fixation accounted for only 6%. We conclude that crowding is the major factor limiting the size of the visual span, and that the horizontal/vertical difference in the size of the visual span is associated with stronger crowding along the vertical midline.
visual span; crowding; reading; vertical text; acuity; mislocation
Acuity measurement is a fundamental method to assess visual performance in the clinic. Little is known about how acuity measured in the presence of neighboring letters, as in the case of letter charts, changes with contrast and with non-foveal viewing. This information is crucial for acuity measurement using low-contrast charts and when patients cannot use their fovea. In this study, we evaluated how optotype acuity, with and without flankers, is affected by contrast and eccentricity.
Five young adults with normal vision identified the orientation of a Tumbling-E alone or in the presence of four flanking Tumbling-Es. Edge-to-edge letter spacing ranged from 1 to 20 bar widths. Stimuli were presented on a white background for 150 ms with Weber contrast ranging from −2.5% to −99%. Flankers had the same size and contrast as the target. Testings were performed at the fovea, 3, 5 and 10 degrees in the inferior visual field.
When plotted as a function of letter spacing, acuity remains unaffected by the presence of flankers until the flankers are within the critical spacing, which averages an edge-to-edge spacing of 4.4 bar widths at the fovea, and approximately 16 bar widths at all three eccentricities. Critical spacing decreases with a reduction in contrast. When plotted as a function of contrast, acuity only worsens when the contrast falls below approximately 24% at the fovea and 17% in the periphery, for flanked and unflanked conditions alike.
The letter spacing on conventional letter charts exceeds the critical spacing for acuity measurement at the fovea, at all contrast levels. Thus these charts are appropriate for assessing foveal acuity. In the periphery, the critical spacing is larger than the letter spacing on conventional charts. Consequently, these charts may underestimate the acuity measured in the periphery due to the effects of crowding.
acuity; contrast; eccentricity; crowding; periphery; critical spacing; critical contrast
Following the onset of central vision loss, most patients develop an eccentric retinal location outside the affected macular region, the preferred retinal locus (PRL), as their new reference for visual tasks. The first goal of this paper is to present behavioral evidence showing the presence of experience-dependent plasticity in people with central vision loss. The evidence includes (1) the presence of oculomotor re-referencing of fixational saccades to the PRL; (2) the characteristics of the shape of the crowding zone (spatial region within which the presence of other objects affects the recognition of a target) at the PRL are more “foveal-like” instead of resembling those of the normal periphery; and (3) the change in the shape of the crowding zone at a para-PRL location that includes a component referenced to the PRL. These findings suggest that there is a shift in the referencing locus of the oculomotor and the sensory visual system from the fovea to the PRL for people with central vision loss, implying that the visual system for these individuals is still plastic and can be modified through experiences. The second goal of the paper is to demonstrate the feasibility of applying perceptual learning, which capitalizes on the presence of plasticity, as a tool to improve functional vision for people with central vision loss. Our finding that visual function could improve with perceptual learning presents an exciting possibility for the development of an alternative rehabilitative strategy for people with central vision loss.
central vision loss; low vision; AMD; plasticity; eye movements; acuity; crowding; perceptual learning; rehabilitation
Single-unit recordings demonstrated that the adult mammalian visual cortex is capable of reorganizing after induced retinal lesions. In humans, whether the adult cortex is capable of reorganizing has only been studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging, with equivocal results. Here, we exploited the phenomenon of visual crowding, a major limitation on object recognition, to show that, in humans with long-standing retinal (macular) lesions that afflict the fovea and thus use their peripheral vision exclusively, the signature properties of crowding are distinctly different from those of the normal periphery. Crowding refers to the inability to recognize objects when the object spacing is smaller than the critical spacing. Critical spacing depends only on the retinal location of the object, scales linearly with its distance from the fovea, and is approximately two times larger in the radial than the tangential direction with respect to the fovea, thus demonstrating the signature radial–tangential anisotropy of the crowding zone. Using retinal imaging combined with behavioral measurements, we mapped out the crowding zone at the precise peripheral retinal locations adopted by individuals with macular lesions as the new visual reference loci. At these loci, the critical spacings are substantially smaller along the radial direction than expected based on the normal periphery, resulting in a lower scaling of critical spacing with the eccentricity of the peripheral locus and a loss in the signature radial–tangential anisotropy of the crowding zone. These results imply a fundamental difference in the substrate of cortical processing in object recognition following long-term adaptation to macular lesions.
Performance for many visual tasks improves with training. The magnitude of improvement following training depends on the training task, number of trials per training session and the total amount of training. Does the magnitude of improvement also depend on the frequency of training sessions? In this study, we compared the learning effect for three groups of normally sighted observers who repeatedly practiced the task of identifying crowded letters in the periphery for six sessions (1000 trials per session), according to three different training schedules — one group received one session of training everyday, the second group received a training session once a week and the third group once every two weeks. Following six sessions of training, all observers improved in their performance of identifying crowded letters in the periphery. Most importantly, the magnitudes of improvement were similar across the three training groups. The improvement was accompanied by a reduction in the spatial extent of crowding, an increase in the size of visual span and a reduction in letter-size threshold. The magnitudes of these accompanied improvements were also similar across the three training groups. Our finding that the effectiveness of visual perceptual learning is similar for daily, weekly and biweekly training has significant implication for adopting perceptual learning as an option to improve visual functions for clinical patients.
perceptual learning; crowding; letter identification; peripheral vision