Maximum differentiation (MAD) competition: A methodology for comparing computational models of perceptual quantities

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We propose an efficient methodology for comparing computational models of a perceptually discriminable quantity. Rather than comparing model responses to subjective responses on a set of pre-selected stimuli, the stimuli are computer-synthesized so as to optimally distinguish the models. Specifically, given two computational models that take a stimulus as an input and predict a perceptually discriminable quantity, we first synthesize a pair of stimuli that maximize/minimize the response of one model while holding the other fixed. We then repeat this procedure, but with the roles of the two models reversed. Subjective testing on pairs of such synthesized stimuli provides a strong indication of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two models. Specifically, the model whose extremal stimulus pairs are easier for subjects to discriminate is the better model. Moreover, careful study of the synthesized stimuli may suggest potential ways to improve a model or to combine aspects of multiple models. We demonstrate the methodology for two example perceptual quantities: contrast and image quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number12
StatePublished - Sep 23 2008


  • Contrast perception
  • Image quality assessment
  • Maximum differentiation competition
  • Model comparison
  • Perceptual discriminability
  • Stimulus synthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems

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