THE 'WHAT' AND 'WHY' OF PERCEPTUAL ASYMMETRIES IN THE VISUAL DOMAIN
Perceptual asymmetry is one of the most important characteristics of our visual functioning. We carefully reviewed the scientific literature in order to examine such asymmetries, separating them into two major categories: within-visual field asymmetries and between-visual field asymmetries. We explain these asymmetries in terms of perceptual aspects or tasks, the 'what' of the asymmetries; and in terms of underlying mechanisms, the 'why' of the asymmetries. The within-visual field asymmetries are fundamental to orientation, motion direction, and spatial frequency processing. The between-visual field asymmetries have been reported for a wide range of perceptual phenomena. The foveal dominance over the periphery, in particular, has been prominent for visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and colour discrimination. This also holds true for object or face recognition and reading performance. The upper-lower visual field asymmetries in favour of the lower have been demonstrated for temporal and contrast sensitivities, visual acuity, spatial resolution, orientation, hue and motion processing. In contrast, the upper field advantages have been seen in visual search, apparent size, and object recognition tasks. The left-right visual field asymmetries include the left field dominance in spatial (e.g., orientation) processing and the right field dominance in non-spatial (e.g., temporal) processing. The left field is also better at low spatial frequency or global and coordinate spatial processing, whereas the right field is better at high spatial frequency or local and categorical spatial processing. All these asymmetries have inborn neural/physiological origins, the 'primary why', but can be also susceptible to visual experience, the 'critical why' (promotes or blocks the asymmetries by altering neural functions).
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