Masking, crowding and grouping: Connecting low and mid-level vision

Josephine Reuther* (Corresponding Author), Ramakrishna Chakravarthi, Jasna Martinovic

*Corresponding author for this work

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An important task for vision science is to build a unitary framework of low and mid-level vision. As a step on this way, our study examined differences and commonalities between masking, crowding and grouping – three processes that occur through spatial interactions between neighbouring elements. We measured contrast thresholds as functions of inter-element spacing and eccentricity for Gabor detection, discrimination, contour integration, using a common stimulus grid consisting of 9 Gabor elements. From these thresholds, we derived a) the baseline contrast necessary to perform each task and b) the spatial extent over which task performance was stable. This spatial window can be taken as an indicator of field size, where elements that fall within a putative field are readily combined. We found that contrast thresholds were universally modulated by inter-element distance, with a shallower and inverted effect for grouping compared to masking and crowding. Baseline contrasts for detecting stimuli and discriminating their properties were positively linked across the tested retinal locations (parafovea and near periphery), whereas those for integrating elements and discriminating their properties were negatively linked. Meanwhile, masking and crowding spatial windows remained uncorrelated across eccentricity, although they were correlated across participants. This suggests that the computation performed by each type of visual field operates over different distances that co-varies across observers, but not across retinal locations. Contrast-processing units may thus lie at the core of the shared idiosyncrasies across tasks reported in many previous studies, despite the fundamental
differences in the extent of their spatial windows
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

JM (principal investigator) and RC (co-investigator) were supported by grant BB/R009287/1 from UKRI BBSRC. We thank Prof. Arash Sahraie for lending us the equipment used to monitor eye movements, as well as the trial lens set. We also thank Nicholas Jeerakun for his helpful comments and the inspiration that led to the visualisation of the visual fields in figure 18.

Data Availability Statement

Open Science: Data are deposited on OSF (


  • masking
  • crowding
  • grouping
  • receptive fields
  • integration fields
  • association fields
  • mid-level vision


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