Symmetry and constancy in the perception of negative and positive luminance contrast

Dwight A. Burkhardt, Jon Gottesman, Daniel Kersten, Gordon E. Legge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The perception of suprathreshold luminance contrast was investigated by forced-choice psychophysical procedures that were designed to define contrast equivalence relations. Observers compared the perceived contrast of rectangular bars that were presented for 500 msec at 3.9 deg on opposite sides of the fovea. The results show a nearly symmetrical relation between the perception of negative and positive contrast that is largely invariant over four decades of background luminance. Thus, for any fixed background luminance, equal absolute contrasts evoke approximately equal perceived contrasts. Symmetry also held with variations in the width, the eccentricity, and the focus of the bars. Symmetry was investigated further by determining equivalent contrast relations for negative contrasts as a function of background luminance and by contrast scaling. These results show evidence for nearly perfect contrast constancy for targets of low to moderate contrast and departures from constancy for high-contrast targets. These new findings on negative contrast, symmetry, and contrast constancy are discussed in relation to underlying mechanisms for contrast perception and classic experiments on brightness and lightness constancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-316
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Optical Society of America A: Optics and Image Science, and Vision
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1984


Dive into the research topics of 'Symmetry and constancy in the perception of negative and positive luminance contrast'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this