Many visual effects are believed to be processed at several functional and anatomical levels of cortical processing. Determining if and how the levels contribute differentially to these effects is a leading problem in visual perception and visual neuroscience. We review and analyze a combination of extant psychophysical findings in the context of neurophysiological and brain-imaging results. Specifically using findings relating to visual illusions, crowding, and masking as exemplary cases, we develop a theoretical rationale for showing how relative levels of cortical processing contributing to these effects can already be deduced from the psychophysically determined functions relating respectively the illusory, crowding and masking strengths to the contrast of the illusion inducers, of the flankers producing the crowding, and of the mask. The wider implications of this rationale show how it can help to settle or clarify theoretical and interpretive inconsistencies and how it can further psychophysical, brain-recording and brain-imaging research geared to explore the relative functional and cortical levels at which conscious and unconscious processing of visual information occur. Our approach also allows us to make some specific predictions for future studies, whose results will provide empirical tests of its validity.
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