Theories of perceptual transparency have typically been developed within the context of a physical model that generates the percept of transparency (F. Metelli's episcotister model, 1974b). Here 2 fundamental questions are investigated: (a) When does the visual system initiate the percept of one surface seen through another? (b) How does it assign surface properties to a transparent layer? Results reveal systematic deviations from the predictions of Metelli's model, both for initiating image decomposition into multiple surfaces and for assigning surface attributes. Specifically, results demonstrate that the visual system uses Michelson contrast as a critical image variable to initiate percepts of transparency and to assign transmittance to transparent surfaces. Findings are discussed in relation to previous theories of transparency, lightness, brightness, and contrast-contrast.
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