Brightness induction by local contrast and the spatial dependence of assimilation

R. Clay Reid, Robert Shapley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two mechanisms of brightness perception (1) brightness induction by local contrast and (2) assimilation, were examined for a variety of visual stimuli. Local contrast is the primary determinant of brightness perception, making objects appear brighter on a background of lower luminance and darker on a background of greater luminance. Assimilation is the opposite effect, whereby objects on a brighter (but not necessarily more luminant) background appear brighter or on a dark background appear darker. We have compared the relative strength of the two effects using stimuli which permit them to be studied separately. Brightness induction by local contrast is quantitatively stronger in all situations. Further, the strength of assimilation is strongly dependent on spatial parameters in the visual scene. These results are shown to be true both for simple visual stimuli as well as for complicated Mondrian-like patterns. The Retinex theory of brightness perception predicts that the two effects are equal. Our results show a range of relative strengths (assimilation vs brightness induction due to contrast) from 0.59 to 0.63 at 5′ down to 0.34 at 43′.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-132
Number of pages18
JournalVision research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1988


  • Assimilation
  • Brightness
  • Contrast
  • Cortex
  • Retinex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems

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