Peripheral vision and pattern recognition: a review

Hans Strasburger, Ingo Rentschler and Martin Jüttner

We summarize the various strands of research on peripheral vision and relate them to theories of form perception. After a historical overview, we describe quantifications of the cortical magnification hypothesis, including an extension of Schwartz’s cortical mapping function. The merits of this concept are considered across a wide range of psychophysical tasks, followed by a discussion of its limitations and the need for non-spatial scaling. We also review the eccentricity dependence of other low-level functions including reaction time, temporal resolution and spatial summation, as well as perimetric methods for assessing the visual field. A central topic of our review is the recognition of characters in peripheral vision, both at low and high levels of contrast, and the impact of surrounding contours known as crowding. We demonstrate how Bouma’s law, specifying the critical distance for the onset of crowding, can be stated in terms of the retino-cortical mapping. As for the recognition of more complex stimuli, like textures, faces and scenes, performance in general does not follow predictions of basic acuity measures but indicates a substantial impact of midlevel vision and cognitive factors. We further consider eccentricity-dependent limitations of learning, both at the level of perceptual learning and category learning. With regard to the latter, the reviewed evidence suggests a generic limitation of extrafoveal vision in categorization tasks involving multiple stimulus classes. Finally, models of peripheral form vision are discussed. Our analysis suggests that in addition to contrast sensitivity, positional uncertainty and crowding, peripheral form vision is limited with regard to category learning by a distinctly lower representational complexity and learning speed. Taken together, the limitations on cognitive processing in peripheral vision appear to be as significant as those imposed on low level functions and by way of crowding.

Keywords: Peripheral vision, visual field, acuity, contrast sensitivity, temporal resolution, crowding effect, perceptual learning, computational models, categorization, object recognition, faces, facial expression, natural scenes, scene gist, texture, contour, learning, perceptual learning, category learning, generalization, invariance, translation invariance, shift invariance

 Strasburger, H., Rentschler, I. & Jüttner, M. (2011). Peripheral vision and pattern recognition: A review. Journal of Vision, 11(5):13, 1–82,, doi:10.1167/11.5.13.