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An uneven field

The ability to spot objects in peripheral vision varies between individuals, new research finds

A man driving

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences delves into the mechanism that means people struggle to recognise objects in their peripheral vision when the view is cluttered.

Researchers found that when crowding was present in one part of the visual field, patients also had difficulty detecting the position of objects and moving their eyes to where the object was located.

The study suggests that these differences share a common origin, possibly beginning as early in the visual system as the retina.

Dr John Greenwood, of the University College London, told OT that the findings fitted with an emerging view of crowding as a process that simplifies peripheral vision when the brain is unable to provide a finely detailed view.

“Although it can impair your ability to identify an object in clutter, such as a face in a crowded scene, it may nonetheless be an adaptive away for the brain to represent the gist of a scene with limited resources,” he added.

There were differences in the ability of individuals to distinguish objects in their peripheral vision. On average, people were worse at spotting objects in crowded environments when they were above or below eye level.

Crowding was the fundamental limitation on an individual’s ability to identify objects across 95% of the visual field, Dr Greenwood highlighted.  

“A key part of understanding our peripheral vision is therefore to understand the way crowding operates,” he explained.