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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Nov 7;97(23):12834-9.

An empirical explanation of color contrast.

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  • 1Duke University Medical Center, Box 3209, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


For reasons not well understood, the color of a surface can appear quite different when placed in different chromatic surrounds. Here we explore the possibility that these color contrast effects are generated according to what the same or similar stimuli have turned out to signify in the past about the physical relationships between reflectance, illumination, and the spectral returns they produce. This hypothesis was evaluated by (i) comparing the physical relationships of reflectances, illuminants, and spectral returns with the perceptual phenomenology of color contrast and (ii) testing whether perceptions of color contrast are predictably changed by altering the probabilities of the possible sources of the stimulus. The results we describe are consistent with a wholly empirical explanation of color contrast effects.

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