Habitual wearers of colored lenses adapt more rapidly to the color changes the lenses produce

Stephen A. Engel, Arnold J. Wilkins, Shivraj Mand, Nathaniel E. Helwig, Peter M. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


The visual system continuously adapts to the environment, allowing it to perform optimally in a changing visual world. One large change occurs every time one takes off or puts on a pair of spectacles. It would be advantageous for the visual system to learn to adapt particularly rapidly to such large, commonly occurring events, but whether it can do so remains unknown. Here, we tested whether people who routinely wear spectacles with colored lenses increase how rapidly they adapt to the color shifts their lenses produce. Adaptation to a global color shift causes the appearance of a test color to change. We measured changes in the color that appeared "unique yellow", that is neither reddish nor greenish, as subjects donned and removed their spectacles. Nine habitual wearers and nine age-matched control subjects judged the color of a small monochromatic test light presented with a large, uniform, whitish surround every 5 s. Red lenses shifted unique yellow to more reddish colors (longer wavelengths), and greenish lenses shifted it to more greenish colors (shorter wavelengths), consistent with adaptation "normalizing" the appearance of the world. In controls, the time course of this adaptation contained a large, rapid component and a smaller gradual one, in agreement with prior results. Critically, in habitual wearers the rapid component was significantly larger, and the gradual component significantly smaller than in controls. The total amount of adaptation was also larger in habitual wearers than in controls. These data suggest strongly that the visual system adapts with increasing rapidity and strength as environments are encountered repeatedly over time. An additional unexpected finding was that baseline unique yellow shifted in a direction opposite to that produced by the habitually worn lenses. Overall, our results represent one of the first formal reports that adjusting to putting on or taking off spectacles becomes easier over time, and may have important implications for clinical management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-48
Number of pages8
JournalVision Research
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Adaptation
  • Chromatic
  • Color
  • Long-term
  • Spectacles

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