Noise masking of White's illusion exposes the weakness of current spatial filtering models of lightness perception

Torsten Betz, Robert Shapley, Felix A. Wichmann, Marianne Maertens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spatial filtering models are currently a widely accepted mechanistic account of human lightness perception. Their popularity can be ascribed to two reasons: They correctly predict how human observers perceive a variety of lightness illusions, and the processing steps involved in the models bear an apparent resemblance with known physiological mechanisms at early stages of visual processing. Here, we tested the adequacy of these models by probing their response to stimuli that have been modified by adding narrowband noise. Psychophysically, it has been shown that noise in the range of one to five cycles per degree (cpd) can drastically reduce the strength of some lightness phenomena, while noise outside this range has little or no effect on perceived lightness. Choosing White's illusion (White, 1979) as a test case, we replicated and extended the psychophysical results, and found that none of the spatial filtering models tested was able to reproduce the spatial frequency specific effect of narrowband noise. We discuss the reasons for failure for each model individually, but we argue that the failure is indicative of the general inadequacy of this class of spatial filtering models. Given the present evidence we do not believe that spatial filtering models capture the mechanisms that are responsible for producing many of the lightness phenomena observed in human perception. Instead we think that our findings support the idea that low-level contributions to perceived lightness are primarily determined by the luminance contrast at surface boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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