Apparent contrast differs across the vertical meridian: Visual and attentional factors

Stuart Fuller, Ruby Z. Rodriguez, Marisa Carrasco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is known that visual performance is better on the horizontal than the vertical meridian, and in the lower than the upper region of the vertical meridian (Vertical Meridian Asymmetry, "VMA"), and that exogenous spatial attention increases the apparent contrast of a stimulus. Here we investigate whether the VMA also leads to differences in the subjective appearance of contrast between the upper and lower vertical meridian, and how the effects of exogenous spatial attention on appearance interact with the VMA. Two Gabor stimuli were presented North and South of fixation at 4° eccentricity along the vertical meridian. Observers were asked to report the orientation of the Gabor that was higher in contrast. By assessing which stimulus observers perceived to be higher in contrast, we obtained psychometric functions and their concomitant points of subjective equality (PSE). These functions were measured both when a neutral cue was presented in the middle of the display and transient attention was deployed via a peripheral cue to the location of one of the stimuli. Observers were told that the cues were uninformative as to the stimulus contrast or its orientation. We report two novel findings. First, apparent contrast is higher on the lower vertical meridian than on the upper. Second, the attentional enhancement of apparent contrast is asymmetrical with both low and high contrast stimuli; the effect of exogenous spatial attention is greater on the lower than the upper vertical meridian. As in prior studies, we find no corresponding asymmetry in orientation discrimination. Signal detection-based models explain the asymmetrical appearance effects as a function of differential multiplicative gain factors for the North and South locations, and predict a similar but much smaller asymmetry for orientation discrimination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number16
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 24 2008


  • Appearance
  • Exogenous attention
  • Vertical meridian asymmetry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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