Noise masking reveals channels for second-order letters

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We investigate the channels underlying identification of second-order letters using a critical-band masking paradigm. We find that observers use a single 1-1.5 octave-wide channel for this task. This channel's best spatial frequency (c/letter) did not change across different noise conditions (indicating the inability of observers to switch channels to improve signal-to-noise ratio) or across different letter sizes (indicating scale invariance), for a fixed carrier frequency (c/letter). However, the channel's best spatial frequency does change with stimulus carrier frequency (both in c/letter); one is proportional to the other. Following Majaj et al. (Majaj, N. J., Pelli, D. G., Kurshan, P., & Palomares, M. (2002). The role of spatial frequency channels in letter identification. Vision Research, 42, 1165-1184), we define "stroke frequency" as the line frequency (strokes/deg) in the luminance image. That is, for luminance-defined letters, stroke frequency is the number of lines (strokes) across each letter divided by letter width. For second-order letters, letter texture stroke frequency is the number of carrier cycles (luminance lines) within the letter ink area divided by the letter width. Unlike the nonlinear dependence found for first-order letters (implying scale-dependent processing), for second-order letters the channel frequency is half the letter texture stroke frequency (suggesting scale-invariant processing).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1493-1506
Number of pages14
JournalVision research
Issue number8-9
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Channel switching
  • Critical-band masking
  • Letter identification
  • Scale invariance
  • Second-order vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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