Modeling visual performance differences ‘around’ the visual field: A computational observer approach

Eline R. Kupers, Marisa Carrasco, Jonathan Winawer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual performance depends on polar angle, even when eccentricity is held constant; on many psychophysical tasks observers perform best when stimuli are presented on the horizontal meridian, worst on the upper vertical, and intermediate on the lower vertical meridian. This variation in performance ‘around’ the visual field can be as pronounced as that of doubling the stimulus eccentricity. The causes of these asymmetries in performance are largely unknown. Some factors in the eye, e.g. cone density, are positively correlated with the reported variations in visual performance with polar angle. However, the question remains whether these correlations can quantitatively explain the perceptual differences observed ‘around’ the visual field. To investigate the extent to which the earliest stages of vision–opti-cal quality and cone density–contribute to performance differences with polar angle, we created a computational observer model. The model uses the open-source software package ISETBIO to simulate an orientation discrimination task for which visual performance differs with polar angle. The model starts from the photons emitted by a display, which pass through simulated human optics with fixational eye movements, followed by cone isomeriza-tions in the retina. Finally, we classify stimulus orientation using a support vector machine to learn a linear classifier on the photon absorptions. To account for the 30% increase in contrast thresholds for upper vertical compared to horizontal meridian, as observed psycho-physically on the same task, our computational observer model would require either an increase of ~7 diopters of defocus or a reduction of 500% in cone density. These values far exceed the actual variations as a function of polar angle observed in human eyes. Therefore, we conclude that these factors in the eye only account for a small fraction of differences in visual performance with polar angle. Substantial additional asymmetries must arise in later retinal and/or cortical processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007063
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Modeling visual performance differences ‘around’ the visual field: A computational observer approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this