Asymmetries around the visual field: From retina to cortex to behavior

Eline R. Kupers, Noah C. Benson, Marisa Carrasco, Jonathan Winawer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual performance varies around the visual field. It is best near the fovea compared to the periphery, and at iso-eccentric locations it is best on the horizontal, intermediate on the lower, and poorest on the upper meridian. The fovea-to-periphery performance decline is linked to the decreases in cone density, retinal ganglion cell (RGC) density, and V1 cortical magnification factor (CMF) as eccentricity increases. The origins of polar angle asymmetries are not well understood. Optical quality and cone density vary across the retina, but recent computational modeling has shown that these factors can only account for a small percentage of behavior. Here, we investigate how visual processing beyond the cone photon absorptions contributes to polar angle asymmetries in performance. First, we quantify the extent of asymmetries in cone density, midget RGC density, and V1 CMF. We find that both polar angle asymmetries and eccentricity gradients increase from cones to mRGCs, and from mRGCs to cortex. Second, we extend our previously published computational observer model to quantify the contribution of phototransduction by the cones and spatial filtering by mRGCs to behavioral asymmetries. Starting with photons emitted by a visual display, the model simulates the effect of human optics, cone isomerizations, phototransduction, and mRGC spatial filtering. The model performs a forced choice orientation discrimination task on mRGC responses using a linear support vector machine classifier. The model shows that asymmetries in a decision maker's performance across polar angle are greater when assessing the photocurrents than when assessing isomerizations and are greater still when assessing mRGC signals. Nonetheless, the polar angle asymmetries of the mRGC outputs are still considerably smaller than those observed from human performance. We conclude that cone isomerizations, phototransduction, and the spatial filtering properties of mRGCs contribute to polar angle performance differences, but that a full account of these differences will entail additional contribution from cortical representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1009771
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Adult
  • Computational Biology
  • Humans
  • Retina/physiology
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells/physiology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells/physiology
  • Support Vector Machine
  • Vision, Ocular/physiology
  • Visual Cortex/physiology
  • Visual Fields/physiology
  • Young Adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Modeling and Simulation


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