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The functional role of spatial anisotropies in ensemble perception

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BMC Biol. 2024 Feb 5;22(1):28. doi: 10.1186/s12915-024-01822-3.


BACKGROUND: The human brain can rapidly represent sets of similar stimuli by their ensemble summary statistics, like the average orientation or size. Classic models assume that ensemble statistics are computed by integrating all elements with equal weight. Challenging this view, here, we show that ensemble statistics are estimated by combining parafoveal and foveal statistics in proportion to their reliability. In a series of experiments, observers reproduced the average orientation of an ensemble of stimuli under varying levels of visual uncertainty.

RESULTS: Ensemble statistics were affected by multiple spatial biases, in particular, a strong and persistent bias towards the center of the visual field. This bias, evident in the majority of subjects and in all experiments, scaled with uncertainty: the higher the uncertainty in the ensemble statistics, the larger the bias towards the element shown at the fovea.

CONCLUSION: Our findings indicate that ensemble perception cannot be explained by simple uniform pooling. The visual system weights information anisotropically from both the parafovea and the fovea, taking the intrinsic spatial anisotropies of vision into account to compensate for visual uncertainty.

PMID:38317216 | DOI:10.1186/s12915-024-01822-3

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