Lightness constancy in reality, in virtual reality, and on flat-panel displays

Khushbu Y. Patel, Laurie M. Wilcox, Laurence T. Maloney, Krista A. Ehinger, Jaykishan Y. Patel, Emma Wiedenmann, Richard F. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Virtual reality (VR) displays are being used in an increasingly wide range of applications. However, previous work shows that viewers often perceive scene properties very differently in real and virtual environments and so realistic perception of virtual stimuli should always be a carefully tested conclusion, not an assumption. One important property for realistic scene perception is surface color. To evaluate how well virtual platforms support realistic perception of achromatic surface color, we assessed lightness constancy in a physical apparatus with real lights and surfaces, in a commercial VR headset, and on a traditional flat-panel display. We found that lightness constancy was good in all three environments, though significantly better in the real environment than on the flat-panel display. We also found that variability across observers was significantly greater in VR and on the flat-panel display than in the physical environment. We conclude that these discrepancies should be taken into account in applications where realistic perception is critical but also that in many cases VR can be used as a flexible alternative to flat-panel displays and a reasonable proxy for real environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBehavior Research Methods
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Constancy
  • Lightness
  • Realism
  • Virtual reality
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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