, Volume 49, Issue 6, pp 495-508

Contrast thresholds for identification of numeric characters in direct and eccentric view


Aubert and Foerster (1857) are frequently cited for having shown that the lower visual acuity of peripheral vision can be compensated for by increasing stimulus size. This result is seemingly consistent with the concept of cortical magnification, and it has been confirmed by many subsequent authors. Yet it is rarely noted that Aubert and Foerster also observed a loss of the “quality of form.” We have studied the recognition of numeric characters in foveal and eccentric vision by determining the contrast required for 67% correct identification. At each eccentricity, the lowest contrast threshold is achieved with a specific stimulus size. But the contrast thresholds for these optimal stimuli are not independent of retinal eccentricity as cortical magnification scaling would predict. With high-contrast targets, however, threshold target sizes were consistent with cortical magnification out to 6° eccentricity. Beyond 6°, threshold target sizes were larger than cortical magnification predicted. We also investigated recognition performance in the presence of neighboring characters (crowding phenomenon). Target character size, distance of flanking characters, and precision of focusing of attention all affect recognition. The influence of these parameters is different in the fovea and in the periphery. Our findings confirm Aubert and Foerster’s original observation of a qualitative difference between foveal and peripheral vision.

Preparation of this article was supported by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Grant InSan I-1088-V-6389 to Ingo Rentschler, and by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Grant PO 121/13, Project 5, to Ingo Rentschler.