OSA's Digital Library

Journal of the Optical Society of America A

Journal of the Optical Society of America A


  • Vol. 16, Iss. 5 — May. 1, 1999
  • pp: 979–986

Visual sensitivity in the presence of a patterned background

Alan W. Freeman and David R. Badcock  »View Author Affiliations

JOSA A, Vol. 16, Issue 5, pp. 979-986 (1999)

View Full Text Article

Enhanced HTML    Acrobat PDF (253 KB)

Browse Journals / Lookup Meetings

Browse by Journal and Year


Lookup Conference Papers

Close Browse Journals / Lookup Meetings

Article Tools



The sensitivity of the visual system depends on ambient illumination: Sensitivity is reduced in the presence of a bright, uniform background. We asked how sensitivity is adjusted when the background is spatially detailed and therefore contains both luminance peaks and troughs in the neighborhood of a foreground object. A test flash was superimposed on a static sinusoidal grating. As the grating’s spatial frequency increased, sensitivity for flash detection declined, regardless of whether the flash was superimposed on a peak or a trough of the grating. We studied the mechanisms underlying this loss of sensitivity by delivering the test stimulus through one eye and the background through the other. The conclusion is that three mechanisms are involved. Luminance adaptation and a masking process adjust sensitivity at low- and mid-range spatial frequencies, respectively. The third mechanism, a contrast gain control, is localized (it occurs at spatial frequencies approaching the limit for resolution) and fast (complete in half a second), and it results from early processing in the visual pathway (it is absent during dichoptic viewing). This local adjustment of sensitivity may help to protect the clarity of even the smallest details in the visual scene.

© 1999 Optical Society of America

OCIS Codes
(330.1800) Vision, color, and visual optics : Vision - contrast sensitivity
(330.5510) Vision, color, and visual optics : Psychophysics
(330.6100) Vision, color, and visual optics : Spatial discrimination
(330.7320) Vision, color, and visual optics : Vision adaptation

Original Manuscript: September 4, 1998
Revised Manuscript: January 4, 1999
Manuscript Accepted: January 11, 1999
Published: May 1, 1999

Alan W. Freeman and David R. Badcock, "Visual sensitivity in the presence of a patterned background," J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 16, 979-986 (1999)

Sort:  Author  |  Year  |  Journal  |  Reset  


  1. W. A. H. Rushton, “Visual adaptation,” Proc. R. Soc. London, Ser. B 162, 20–46 (1965). [CrossRef]
  2. D. C. Burr, J. Ross, M. C. Morrone, “Local regulation of luminance gain,” Vision Res. 25, 717–727 (1985). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  3. D. I. A. MacLeod, S. He, “Visible flicker from invisible patterns,” Nature (London) 361, 256–258 (1993). [CrossRef]
  4. B. H. Crawford, “Visual adaptation in relation to brief conditioning stimuli,” Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 134, 283–302 (1947). [CrossRef]
  5. L. A. Riggs, J. C. Armington, F. Ratliff, “Motions of the retinal image during fixation,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 44, 315–321 (1954). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. C. B. Blakemore, F. W. Campbell, “On the existence of neurones in the human visual system selectively sensitive to the orientation and size of retinal images,” J. Physiol. (London) 203, 237–260 (1969).
  7. G. E. Legge, J. M. Foley, “Contrast masking in human vision,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 70, 1458–1471 (1980). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  8. H. R. Wilson, D. K. McFarlane, G. C. Phillips, “Spatial frequency tuning of orientation selective units estimated by oblique masking,” Vision Res. 23, 873–882 (1983). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  9. A. W. Freeman, D. R. Badcock, V. A. Nguyen, K. C. McGuren, “The spatial spread of visual adaptation,” Austr. J. Psychol. 47, 8 (1995).
  10. A. W. Freeman, D. R. Badcock, “Visual adaptation is highly localised in the human retina,” Invest. Ophthalmol. Visual Sci. Suppl. 37, S726 (1996).
  11. F. L. van Nes, M. A. Bouman, “Spatial modulation transfer in the human eye,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 57, 401–406 (1967). [CrossRef]
  12. H. R. Wilson, J. Kim, “Dynamics of a divisive gain control in human vision,” Vision Res. 38, 2735–2741 (1998). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  13. S. J. Waugh, D. M. Levi, T. Carney, “Orientation, masking, and vernier acuity for line targets,” Vision Res. 33, 1619–1638 (1993). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  14. R. M. Shapley, J. D. Victor, “The effects of contrast on the transfer properties of cat retinal ganglion cells,” J. Physiol. (London) 285, 275–298 (1978).
  15. R. M. Shapley, C. Enroth-Cugell, “Visual adaptation and retinal gain controls,” in Progress in Retinal Research, N. Osborne, G. Chader, eds. (Pergamon, Oxford, UK, 1984), pp. 263–346.
  16. A. Pantle, R. Sekuler, “Size detecting mechanisms in human vision,” Science 162, 1146–1148 (1968). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  17. L. A. Riggs, E. W. Neihl, “Eye movements recorded during convergence and divergence,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 50, 913–920 (1960). [CrossRef]
  18. C. Blakemore, J. Nachmias, “The orientation specificity of two visual after-effects,” J. Physiol. (London) 213, 157–174 (1971).
  19. J. A. Movshon, P. Lennie, “Pattern-selective adaptation in visual cortical neurones,” Nature (London) 278, 850–852 (1979). [CrossRef]
  20. G. B. Henning, B. G. Hertz, D. E. Broadbent, “Some experiments bearing on the hypothesis that the visual system analyses spatial patterns in independent bands of spatial frequency,” Vision Res. 15, 887–897 (1975). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  21. J. Nachmias, B. E. Rogowitz, “Masking by spatially-modulated gratings,” Vision Res. 23, 1621–1629 (1983). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  22. A. M. Derrington, D. R. Badcock, “Detection of spatial beats: non-linearity or contrast increment detection?” Vision Res. 26, 343–348 (1986). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  23. A. B. Bonds, “Role of inhibition in the specification of orientation selectivity of cells in the cat striate cortex,” Visual Neurosci. 2, 41–55 (1989). [CrossRef]
  24. D. J. Heeger, “Normalization of cell responses in cat visual cortex,” Visual Neurosci. 9, 181–197 (1992). [CrossRef]
  25. J. M. Foley, “Human luminance pattern-vision mechanisms: masking experiments require a new model,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 11, 1710–1719 (1994). [CrossRef]
  26. L. Poot, H. P. Snippe, J. H. van Hateren, “Dynamics of adaptation at high luminances: adaptation is faster after luminance decrements than after luminance increments,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 14, 2499–2508 (1997). [CrossRef]
  27. E. A. Benardete, E. Kaplan, B. W. Knight, “Contrast gain control in the primate retina: P cells are not X-like, some M cells are,” Visual Neurosci. 8, 483–486 (1992). [CrossRef]
  28. A. W. Freeman, “Spatial characteristics of the contrast gain control in the cat’s retina,” Vision Res. 31, 775–785 (1991). [CrossRef]
  29. I. Ohzawa, G. Sclar, R. D. Freeman, “Contrast gain control in the cat’s visual system,” J. Neurophysiol. 54, 651–667 (1985). [PubMed]
  30. G. Sclar, P. Lennie, D. D. DePriest, “Contrast adaptation in striate cortex of macaque,” Vision Res. 29, 747–755 (1989). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  31. C. Enroth-Cugell, J. G. Robson, “The contrast sensitivity of retinal ganglion cells of the cat,” J. Physiol. (London) 187, 517–552 (1966).

Cited By

Alert me when this paper is cited

OSA is able to provide readers links to articles that cite this paper by participating in CrossRef's Cited-By Linking service. CrossRef includes content from more than 3000 publishers and societies. In addition to listing OSA journal articles that cite this paper, citing articles from other participating publishers will also be listed.

« Previous Article  |  Next Article »

OSA is a member of CrossRef.

CrossCheck Deposited