Evidence for adjustable bandwidth orientation channels
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The standard model of early vision claims that orientation and spatial frequency are encoded with multiple, quasi-independent channels that have fixed spatial frequency and orientation bandwidths. The standard model was developed using detection and discrimination data collected from experiments that used deterministic patterns such as Gabor patches and gratings used as stimuli. However, detection data from experiments using noise as a stimulus suggests that the visual system may use adjustable-bandwidth, rather than fixed-bandwidth, channels. In our previous work, we used classification images as a key piece of evidence against the hypothesis that pattern detection is based on the responses of channels with an adjustable spatial frequency bandwidth. Here we tested the hypothesis that channels with adjustable orientation bandwidths are used to detect two-dimensional, filtered noise targets that varied in orientation bandwidth and were presented in white noise. Consistent with our previous work that examined spatial frequency bandwidth, we found that detection thresholds were consistent with the hypothesis that observers sum information across a broad range of orientations nearly optimally: absolute efficiency for stimulus detection was 20-30% and approximately constant across a wide range of orientation bandwidths. Unlike what we found with spatial frequency bandwidth, the results of our classification image experiment were consistent with the hypothesis that the orientation bandwidth of internal filters were adjustable. Thus, for orientation summation, both detection thresholds and classification images support the adjustable channels hypothesis. Classification images also revealed hallmarks of inhibition or suppression from uninformative spatial frequencies and/or orientations. This work highlights the limitations of the standard model of summation for orientation. The standard model of orientation summation and tuning was chiefly developed with narrow-band stimuli that were not presented in noise, stimuli that are arguably less naturalistic than the variable bandwidth stimuli presented in noise used in our experiments. Finally, the disagreement between the results from our experiments on spatial frequency summation with the data presented in this paper suggests that orientation may be encoded more flexibly than spatial frequency channels.