This study showed that spatial-frequency components over a 4-octave range affected the visibility of spatial-phase differences. Contrast thresholds were measured for discrimination between two (+45- and −45-deg) spatial phases of a sinusoidal test grating added to a background grating. The background could contain one or several sinusoidal components, all in 0-deg phase. Phase differences between the test and the background were visible at lower constrasts (1) when test and background frequencies were harmonically related than when they were not, (2) when test and background frequencies were within 1 octave than when they were farther apart, (3) when the fundamental frequency of the background was low than when it was high, and (4) for some discriminations more than for others, after practice. The visibility of phase differences was not affected by additional components in the background if the fundamental and difference frequencies of the background remained unchanged. Observers’ reports of their strategies gave information about the types of attentive processing that were used to discriminate phase differences. Attentive processing facilitated phase discrimination for multifrequency gratings spanning a much wider range of spatial frequencies than would be possible by using only local preattentive processing. These results were consistent with the visibility of phase differences being processed by some combination of even- and odd-symmetric simple cells tuned to a wide range of different spatial frequencies.
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