Testing the role of Michelson contrast for the perception of surface lightness

Christiane B. Wiebel, Manish Singh, Marianne Maertens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


It is still an unresolved question how the visual system perceives surface lightness given the ambiguity of the sensory input signal. We studied lightness perception using two-dimensional images of variegated checkerboards shown as perspective projections of three-dimensional objects. We manipulated the contrast of a target check relative to its surround either by rendering the image under different viewing conditions or by introducing noncoincidental changes of the reflectance of the surfaces adjacent to the target. We examined the predictive power of the normalized contrast model (Zeiner & Maertens, 2014) for the different viewing conditions (plain view vs. dark and light transparency) as well as for the noncoincidental surround changes (only high or only low reflectances in the surround). The model accounted for lightness matches across different viewing conditions but not for the surround changes. The observed simultaneous contrast effects were smaller than what would be predicted by the model. We evaluated two model extensions that-both relying on contrast-predicted the observed data well. Both model extensions point to the importance of contrast statistics across space and/or time for the computation of lightness, but it awaits future testing to evaluate whether and how the visual system could represent such statistics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


  • Michelson contrast
  • Simultaneous contrast effect
  • Surface lightness
  • Transparency


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