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Barton L. Anderson, Michael Whitbread, Chamila de Silva; Lightness, brightness, and anchoring. Journal of Vision 2014;14(9):7. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/14.9.7.
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The majority of work in lightness perception has evaluated the perception of lightness using flat, matte, two-dimensional surfaces. In such contexts, the amount of light reaching the eye contains a conflated mixture of the illuminant and surface lightness. A fundamental puzzle of lightness perception is understanding how it is possible to experience achromatic surfaces as specific achromatic shades in the face of this ambiguity. It has been argued that the perception of lightness in such contexts implies that the visual system imposes an “anchoring rule” whereby a specific relative luminance (the highest) serves as a fixed point in the mapping of image luminance onto the lightness scale (“white”). We conducted a series of experiments to explicitly test this assertion in contexts where this mapping seemed most unlikely—namely, low-contrast images viewed in dim illumination. Our results provide evidence that the computational ambiguity in mapping luminance onto lightness is reflected in perceptual experience. The perception of the highest luminance in a two-dimensional Mondrian display varied monotonically with its brightness, ranging from midgray to white. Similar scaling occurred for the lowest luminance and, by implication, all other luminance values. We conclude that the conflation between brightness and lightness in two-dimensional Mondrian displays is reflected in perception and find no support for the claim that any specific relative luminance value acts as a fixed anchor point in this mapping function.
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