Contrast conservation in human vision


Fiser J, Bex PJ, Makous W. Contrast conservation in human vision. Vision Research [Internet]. 2003;43:2637–48.


Visual experience, which is defined by brief saccadic sampling of complex scenes at high contrast, has typically been studied with static gratings at threshold contrast. To investigate how suprathreshold visual processing is related to threshold vision, we tested the temporal integration of contrast in the presence of large, sudden changes in the stimuli such occur during saccades under natural conditions. We observed completely different effects under threshold and suprathreshold viewing conditions. The threshold contrast of successively presented gratings that were either perpendicularly oriented or of inverted phase showed probability summation, implying no detectable interaction between independent visual detectors. However, at suprathreshold levels we found complete algebraic summation of contrast for stimuli longer than 53 ms. The same results were obtained during sudden changes between random noise patterns and between natural scenes. These results cannot be explained by traditional contrast gain-control mechanisms or the effect of contrast constancy. Rather, at suprathreshold levels, the visual system seems to conserve the contrast information from recently viewed images, perhaps for the efficient assessment of the contrast of the visual scene while the eye saccades from place to place.