Mach bands explained by response normalization

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Mach bands are the illusory dark and bright bars seen at the foot and knee of a luminance trapezoid. First demonstrated by Ernst Mach in the latter part of the 19th century, Mach bands are a test bed not only for models of brightness illusions but of spatial vision in general. Up until 50 years ago the dominant explanation of Mach Bands was that they were caused by lateral inhibition among retinal neurons. More recently, the dominant idea has been that Mach bands are a consequence of a visual process that generates a sparse, binary description of the image in terms of “edges” and “bars”. Another recent explanation is that Mach bands result from learned expectations about the pattern of light typically found on sharply curved surfaces. In keeping with recent multi-scale filtering accounts of brightness illusions as well as current physiology, I show however that Mach bands are most simply explained by response normalization, whereby the gains of early visual channels are adjusted on a local basis to make their responses more equal. I show that a simple one-dimensional model of response normalization explains the range of conditions under which Mach bands occur, and as importantly, the conditions under which they do not occur.




Kingdom, F. A. A. (2014). Mach bands explained by response normalization. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8(November), 1–8.

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