Color from invisible patterns


Human pattern resolution is limited by optical blurring1 as well as neural filtering1,2,3 by a cascade of retinal and cortical sites4,5,6 with progressively lower resolution limits. Curiously, pattern structure can influence perceived color: a high-contrast, monochromatic (single wavelength) pattern appears desaturated (closer to white) relative to a uniform field of the same wavelength3,7,8. Here we show that this desaturation is evident even when the pattern's frequency is too high for conscious perception, implicating a nonlinear process—namely light adaptation—at the level of single cone photoreceptors. We propose a neural mechanism in which fast, involuntary eye movements serve to shift control over perception between two competing cone populations, each operating at different levels of adaptation.

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Figure 1: The perceptual phenomenon.
Figure 2: The frequency response.
Figure 3: Perceptual and neural dynamics.


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This research was supported by grant EY-01711 from the National Institutes of Health. We wish to thank A. Shady, D. Hood, A. Holcombe and D. Beer for their comments on an earlier manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sherif Shady.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Shady, S., MacLeod, D. Color from invisible patterns. Nat Neurosci 5, 729–730 (2002).

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