1. The mechanism which makes Y cells different from X cells was investigated. 2. Spatial frequency contrast sensitivity functions for the fundamental and second harmonic responses of Y cells to alternating phase gratings were determined. 3. The fundamental spatial frequency response was predicted by the Fourier transform of the sensitivity profile of the Y cell. The high spatial frequency cut‐off of a Y cell's fundamental response was in this way related to the centre of the cell's receptive field. 4. The second harmonic response of a Y cell did not cut off at such a low spatial frequency as the fundamental response. This result indicated that the source of the second harmonic was a spatial subunit of the receptive field smaller in spatial extent than the centre. 5. Contrast sensitivity vs. spatial phase for a Y cell was measured under three conditions: a full grating, a grating seen through a centrally located window, a grating partially obscured by a visual shutter. The 2nd/1st harmonic sensitivity ratio went down with the window and up with the shutter. These results implied that the centre of Y cells was linear and also that the nonlinear subunits extended into the receptive field surround. 6. Spatial localization of the nonlinear subunits was determined by means of a spatial dipole stimulus. The nonlinear subunits overlapped the centre and surround of the receptive field and extended beyond both. 7. The nature of the Y cell nonlinearity was found to be rectification, as determined from measurements of the second harmonic response as a function of contrast. 8. Spatial models for the Y cell receptive field are proposed.
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