There is evidence that letter identification is mediated by only a narrow band of spatial frequencies and that the center frequency of the neural channel thought to underlie this selectivity is related to the size of the letters. When letters are spatially filtered (at a fixed size) the channel tuning characteristics change according to the properties of the spatial filter (Majaj et al., 2002). Optical aberrations in the eye act to spatially filter the image formed on the retina-their effect is generally to attenuate high frequencies more than low frequencies but often in a non-monotonic way. We might expect the change in the spatial frequency spectrum caused by the aberration to predict the shift in channel tuning observed for aberrated letters. We show that this is not the case. We used critical-band masking to estimate channel-tuning in the presence of three types of aberration-defocus, coma and secondary astigmatism. We found that the maximum masking was shifted to lower frequencies in the presence of an aberration and that this result was not simply predicted by the spatial-frequency-dependent degradation in image quality, assessed via metrics that have previously been shown to correlate well with performance loss in the presence of an aberration. We show that if image quality effects are taken into account (using visual Strehl metrics), the neural channel required to model the data is shifted to lower frequencies compared to the control (no-aberration) condition. Additionally, we show that when spurious resolution (caused by π phase shifts in the optical transfer function) in the image is masked, the channel tuning properties for aberrated letters are affected, suggesting that there may be interference between visual channels. Even in the presence of simulated aberrations, whose properties change from trial-to-trial, observers exhibit flexibility in selecting the spatial frequencies that support letter identification.
critical band masking, letter identification, ocular aberrations, optical distortions, spatial frequency channels, visual Strehl ratio