Humans manipulate objects chiefly within their lower visual field, a consequence of upright posture and the anatomical position of hands and arms. This study tested the hypothesis of enhanced sensitivity to a range of stimuli within the lower visual field. Following current models of hierarchical processing within the ventral steam, discrimination sensitivity was measured for orientation, curvature, shape (radial frequency patterns), and faces at various para-central locations (horizontal, vertical, and main diagonal meridians) and eccentricities (58 and 108). Peripheral sensitivity was isotropic for orientation and curvature. By contrast, observers were significantly better at discriminating shapes throughout the lower visual field compared to elsewhere. For faces, however, peak sensitivity was found in the left visual field, corresponding to the right hemispheric localization of human face processing. Presenting head outlines without any internal features (e.g., eyes, mouth) recovered the lower visual field advantage found for simple shapes. A lower visual field preference for the shape of an object, which is absent for more localized information (orientation and curvature) but also for more complex objects (faces), is inconsistent with a strictly feed-forward model and poses a challenge for multistage models of object perception. The distinct lower visual field preference for contour shapes is, however, consistent with an asymmetry at intermediate stages of visual processing, which may play a key role in representing object characteristics that are particularly relevant to visually guided actions.
- visual field
- object shape