Detecting shapes in noise: tuning characteristics of global shape mechanisms
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The proportion of signal elements embedded in noise needed to detect a signal is a standard tool for investigating motion perception. This paradigm was applied to the shape domain to determine how local information is pooled into a global percept. Stimulus arrays consisted of oriented Gabor elements that sampled the circumference of concentric radial frequency (RF) patterns. Individual Gabors were oriented tangentially to the shape (signal) or randomly (noise). In different conditions, signal elements were located randomly within the entire array or constrained to fall along one of the concentric contours. Coherence thresholds were measured for RF patterns with various frequencies (number of corners) and amplitudes ("sharpness" of corners). Coherence thresholds (about 10% = 15 elements) were lowest for circular shapes. Manipulating shape frequency or amplitude showed a range where thresholds remain unaffected (frequency ≤ RF4; amplitude ≤ 0.05). Increasing either parameter caused thresholds to rise. Compared to circles, thresholds increased by approximately four times for RF13 and five times for amplitudes of 0.3. Confining the signals to individual contours significantly reduced the number of elements needed to reach threshold (between 4 and 6), independent of the total number of elements on the contour or contour shape. Finally, adding external noise to the orientation of the elements had a greater effect on detection thresholds than adding noise to their position. These results provide evidence for a series of highly sensitive, shape-specific analysers which sum information globally but only from within specific annuli. These global mechanisms are tuned to position and orientation of local elements from which they pool information. The overall performance for arrays of elements can be explained by the sensitivity of multiple, independent concentric shape detectors rather than a single detector integrating information widely across space (e.g. Glass pattern detector).
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