Sensitivity to modulations of luminance and contrast in visual white noise: Separate mechanisms with similar behaviour

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Human vision can detect spatiotemporal information conveyed by first- order modulations of luminance and by second-order, non-Fourier modulations of image contrast. Models for second-order motion have suggested two filtering stages separated by a rectifying nonlinearity. We explore here the encoding of stationary first-order and second-order gratings, and their interaction. Stimuli consisted of 2-D binary, broad-band, static, visual noise sinusoidally modulated in luminance (LM, first-order) or contrast (CM, second-order). Modulation thresholds were measured in a two-interval forced- choice staircase procedure. Sensitivity curves for LM and CM had similar shape as a function of spatial frequency, and as a function of the size of a circular Gaussian blob of modulation. Weak background gratings present in both intervals produced order-specific facilitation: LM background facilitated LM detection (the dipper function) and CM facilitated CM detection. LM did not facilitate CM, nor vice-versa, neither in-phase nor out-of-phase, and this is strong evidence that LM and CM are detected via separate mechanisms. This conclusion was further supported by an experiment on the detection of LM/CM mixtures. From a general mathematical model and a specific computer simulation we conclude that a single mechanism sensitive to both LM and CM cannot predict the pattern of results for mixtures, while a model containing separate pathways for LM and CM, followed by energy summation, does so successfully and is quantitatively consistent with the finding of order-specific facilitation.




Schofield, A. J., & Georgeson, M. A. (1999). Sensitivity to modulations of luminance and contrast in visual white noise: Separate mechanisms with similar behaviour. Vision Research, 39(16), 2697–2716.

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