Psychophysics of reading. XI. comparing color contra and luminance contrast

Gordon E Legge, David H. Parish, Andrew Luebker, Lee H. Wurm

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103 Scopus citations


Text can be depicted by luminance contrast (i.e., differences in luminance between characters and background) or by color contrast (i.e., differences in chromaticity). We used a psychophysical method to measure the reading speeds of eight normal and ten low-vision subjects for text displayed on a color monitor. Reading speed was measured as a function of luminance contrast, color contrast (derived from mixtures of red and green), and combinations of the two. When color contrast is high, normal subjects can read as rapidly as with high luminance contrast (>300 words/min). Curves of reading speed versus contrast have the same shape for the two forms of contrast and are superimposed when contrast is measured in multiples of a threshold value. When both color and luminance contrast are present, there is no sign of additive interaction, and performance is determined by the form of contrast yielding the highest reading rate. Our findings suggest that color contrast and luminance contrast are coded in similar ways in the visual system but that the neural signals used in letter recognition are carried by different pathways for color and luminance. We found no advantages of color contrast for low-vision reading. For text composed of 6° characters, all low-vision subjects read better with luminance contrast than with color contrast.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2002-2010
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Optical Society of America A: Optics and Image Science, and Vision
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1990


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