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Michael E. Rudd, Fred Rieke; Brightness in human rod vision depends on slow neural adaptation to quantum statistics of light. Journal of Vision 2016;16(14):23. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/16.14.23.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
In human rod-mediated vision, threshold for small, brief flashes rises in proportion to the square root of adapting luminance at all but the lowest and highest adapting intensities. A classical signal detection theory from Rose (1942, 1948) and de Vries (1943) attributed this rise to the perceptual masking of weak flashes by Poisson fluctuations in photon absorptions from the adapting field. However, previous work by Brown and Rudd (1998) demonstrated that the square-root law also holds for suprathreshold brightness judgments, a finding that supports an alternative explanation of the square-root sensitivity changes as a consequence of physiological adaptation (i.e., neural gain control). Here, we employ a dichoptic matching technique to investigate the properties of this brightness gain control. We show that the brightness gain control: 1) affects the brightness of high-intensity suprathreshold flashes for which assumptions of the de Vries-Rose theory are strongly violated; 2) exhibits a long time course of 100–200 s; and 3) is subject to modulation by temporal contrast noise when the mean adapting luminance is held constant. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the square-root law results from a slow neural adaptation to statistical noise in the rod pool. We suggest that such adaptation may function to reduce the probability of spurious ganglion cell spiking activity due to photon fluctuation noise as the ambient illumination level is increased.
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