Considerable research has demonstrated that the representation is not equally faithful throughout the visual field; representation appears to be coarser in peripheral vision, perhaps as a strategy for dealing with an information bottleneck in visual processing. In the last few years, a convergence of evidence has suggested that in peripheral and unattended regions, the information available consists of summary statistics.
For a complex set of statistics, such a representation can provide a rich and detailed percept of many aspects of a visual scene. However, such a representation is also lossy; we would expect the inherent ambiguities and confusions to have profound implications for vision.
For example, a complex pattern, viewed peripherally, might be poorly represented by its summary statistics, leading to the degraded recognition experienced under conditions of visual crowding. Difficult visual search might occur when summary statistics could not adequately discriminate between a target-present and distractor-only patch of the stimuli. Certain illusory percepts might arise from valid interpretations of the available – lossy – information. It is precisely visual tasks upon which a statistical representation has significant impact that provide the evidence for such a representation in early vision. I will summarize recent evidence that early vision computes summary statistics based upon such tasks.