Visual search is an integral part of human behavior and has proven important to understanding mechanisms of perception, attention, memory, and oculomotor control. Thus far, the dominant theoretical framework posits that search is mainly limited by covert attentional mechanisms, comprising a central bottleneck in visual processing. A different class of theories seeks the cause in the inherent limitations of peripheral vision, with search being constrained by what is known as the functional viewing field (FVF). One of the major factors limiting peripheral vision, and thus the FVF, is crowding. We adopted an individual differences approach to test the prediction from FVF theories that visual search performance is determined by the efficacy of peripheral vision, in particular crowding. Forty-four participants were assessed with regard to their sensitivity to crowding (as measured by critical spacing) and their search efficiency (as indicated by manual responses and eye movements). This revealed substantial correlations between the two tasks, as stronger susceptibility to crowding was predictive of slower search, more eye movements, and longer fixation durations. Our results support FVF theories in showing that peripheral vision is an important determinant of visual search efficiency.
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