Internal curvature signal and noise in low- and high-level vision

Timothy D. Sweeny, Marcia Grabowecky, Yee Joon Kim, Satoru Suzuki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


How does internal processing contribute to visual pattern perception? By modeling visual search performance, we estimated internal signal and noise relevant to perception of curvature, a basic feature important for encoding of three-dimensional surfaces and objects. We used isolated, sparse, crowded, and face contexts to determine how internal curvature signal and noise depended on image crowding, lateral feature interactions, and level of pattern processing. Observers reported the curvature of a briefly flashed segment, which was presented alone (without lateral interaction) or among multiple straight segments (with lateral interaction). Each segment was presented with no context (engaging low-to-intermediate-level curvature processing), embedded within a face context as the mouth (engaging high-level face processing), or embedded within an inverted-scrambled-face context as a control for crowding. Using a simple, biologically plausible model of curvature perception, we estimated internal curvature signal and noise as the mean and standard deviation, respectively, of the Gaussian-distributed population activity of local curvaturetuned channels that best simulated behavioral curvature responses. Internal noise was increased by crowding but not by face context (irrespective of lateral interactions), suggesting prevention of noise accumulation in high-level pattern processing. In contrast, internal curvature signal was unaffected by crowding but modulated by lateral interactions. Lateral interactions (with straight segments) increased curvature signal when no contextual elements were added, but equivalent interactions reduced curvature signal when each segment was presented within a face. These opposing effects of lateral interactions are consistent with the phenomena of local-feature contrast in lowlevel processing and global-feature averaging in high-level processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1236-1257
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Crowding
  • Face
  • Feature contrast
  • Lateral interactions
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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