It is now emerging that vision is usually limited by object spacing rather than size. The visual system recognizes an object by detecting and then combining its features. 'Crowding' occurs when objects are too close together and features from several objects are combined into a jumbled percept. Here, we review the explosion of studies on crowding - in grating discrimination, letter and face recognition, visual search, selective attention, and reading - and find a universal principle, the Bouma law. The critical spacing required to prevent crowding is equal for all objects, although the effect is weaker between dissimilar objects. Furthermore, critical spacing at the cortex is independent of object position, and critical spacing at the visual field is proportional to object distance from fixation. The region where object spacing exceeds critical spacing is the 'uncrowded window'. Observers cannot recognize objects outside of this window and its size limits the speed of reading and search.
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