Contrast discrimination in noise

Gordon E. Legge, Daniel Kersten, Arthur E. Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

249 Scopus citations


Even the highest contrast sensitivities that humans can achieve for the detection of targets on uniform fields fall far short of ideal values. Recent theoretical formulations have attributed departures from ideal performance to two factors—the existence of internal noise within the observer and suboptimal stimulus information sampling by the observer. It has been postulated that the contributions of these two factors can be evaluated separately by measuring contrast-detection thresholds as a function of the level of externally added visual noise. We wished to determine whether a similar analysis could be applied to contrast discrimination and whether variation of the increment threshold with pedestal contrast is due to changes in internal noise or sampling efficiency. We measured contrast-increment thresholds as a function of noise spectral density for near-threshold and suprathreshold pedestal contrasts. The experiments were conducted separately for static and dynamic noise. Our findings indicate that the same formulation can be applied to contrast discrimination and that changes in the estimated values of internal noise, rather than changes in sampling efficiency, play the major role in determining properties of contrast discrimination. Implications for models of contrast coding in vision are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-404
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Optical Society of America A: Optics and Image Science, and Vision
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1987


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