The role of spatial attention in crowding and feature binding

Bahiyya Kewan-Khalayly, Amit Yashar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Crowding refers to the failure to identify a peripheral object due to nearby objects (flankers). A hallmark of crowding is inner–outer asymmetry; that is, the outer flanker (more peripheral) produces stronger interference than the inner one. Here, by manipulating attention, we tested the predictions of two competing accounts: the attentional account, which predicts a positive attentional effect on the inner–outer asymmetry (i.e., attention to the outer flanker will increase asymmetry) and the receptive field size account, which predicts a negative attentional effect. In Experiment 1, observers estimated a Gabor target orientation. A peripheral pre-cue drew attention to one of three locations: target, inner flanker, or outer flanker. Probabilistic mixture modeling demonstrated asymmetry by showing that observers often misreported the outer-flanker orientation as the target. Interestingly, the outer cue led to a higher misreport rate of the outer flanker, and the inner cue led to a lower misreport rate of the outer flanker. Experiment 2 tested the effect of crowding and attention on incoherent object reports (i.e., binding errors, reporting the tilt of one presented item with the color of another item). In each trial, observers estimated both the tilt and color of the target. Attention merely increased coherent target reports, but not coherent flanker reports. The results suggest that the locus of spatial attention plays an essential role in crowding, as well as inner–outer asymmetry, and demonstrate that crowding and feature binding are closely related. However, our findings are inconsistent with the view that covert attention automatically binds features together.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number13
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  • Asymmetry
  • Attention
  • Binding
  • Color
  • Crowding
  • Mixture model
  • Orientation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Ophthalmology


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