Response selection modulates crowding: a cautionary tale for invoking top-down explanations

Josephine Reuther* (Corresponding Author), Ramakrishna Chakravarthi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Object recognition in the periphery is limited by clutter. This phenomenon of visual crowding is ameliorated when the objects are dissimilar. This effect of inter-object similarity has been extensively studied for low-level features and is thought to reflect bottom-up processes. Recently, crowding was also found to be reduced when objects belonged to explicitly distinct groups; that is, crowding was weak when they had low group membership similarity. It has been claimed that top-down knowledge is necessary to explain this effect of group membership, implying that the effect of similarity on crowding cannot be a purely bottom-up process. We tested the claim that the effect of group membership relies on knowledge in two experiments and found that neither explicit knowledge about differences in group membership nor the possibility of acquiring knowledge about target identities is necessary to produce the effects. These results suggest that top-down processes need not be invoked to explain the effect of group membership. Instead, we suggest that differences in flanker reportability that emerge from the differences in group membership are the source of the effect. That is, when targets and flankers are sampled from distinct groups, flankers cannot be inadvertently reported, leading to fewer errors and
hence weaker crowding. Further, we argue that this effect arises at the stage of response selection. This conclusion is well supported by an analytical model based on these principles. We conclude that previously observed effects in crowding attributed to top-down or higher level processes might instead
be due to post-perceptual response selection strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1763-1778
Number of pages16
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Issue number4
Early online date3 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Object recognition
  • Crowding
  • Knowledge
  • Similarity
  • Top-down
  • Bottom-up
  • Response selection


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