Higher-contrast requirements for recognizing low-pass-filtered letters

Mi Young Kwon, Gordon E. Legge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Kwon and Legge (2011) found that high levels of letter recognition accuracy are possible even when letters are severely lowpass filtered (0.9 cycles per letter). How is letter recognition possible with such severe reduction in the spatial resolution of stimulus letters? Clues may come from understanding the possible interaction between contrast and spatial resolution in letter recognition. Here, we asked what the effect is on the contrast threshold for detecting and recognizing letters as the spatialfrequency cutoff of letters is reduced (in cycles per letter). We measured contrast thresholds of seven normally sighted subjects for detecting and recognizing single letters of the English alphabet. The letters were low-pass filtered with several cutoff frequencies (0.9-3.5 cycles per letter, including unfiltered letters). We found that differences in contrast thresholds between detection and recognition increased substantially with decreasing cutoff frequency. We also incorporated the human contrast sensitivity function into an ideal observer model and found qualitatively good agreement between the pattern of performance for the model and our human subjects. Our findings show that the human visual system requires higher contrast for letter recognition when spatial resolution is severely limited. Good agreement between the model and human subjects shows that the greater contrast requirement for recognizing low-pass letters is due to a reduction in the information content of the letters rather than a change in human visual processing. The reduction in stimulus information may be due to increasing stimulus similarity associated with a reduction in spatial-frequency cutoff.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Contrast
  • Contrast sensitivity function
  • Critical bandwidth
  • Ideal observer
  • Letter recognition
  • Letter similarity
  • Peripheral vision
  • Spatial resolution
  • Spatial-frequency bandwidth

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