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Acta Ophthalmol Scand. 2001 Aug;79(4):422-5.

The influence of level and polarity of figure-ground contrast on vision.

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Optometric Research, Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, United Kingdom.



To document the effect upon human foveal vision of changes in the level and polarity of figure-ground contrast under photopic controlled test conditions, with particular emphasis on performance at low contrast levels.


Using a forced-choice psychophysical paradigm, threshold acuity estimates were derived at 9 discrete levels over a near-3 octave contrast range for Landolt ring-type stimuli of either positive or negative polarity. Data were obtained under binocular conditions from 10 young adults, each wearing their optimum low myopic spectacle correction.


Visual acuity declined linearly with reducing stimulus contrast, the deterioration increasing substantially at <10% figure-ground contrast regardless of stimulus polarity. Performance was slightly (but not statistically significantly) better for positive contrast stimuli.


Irrespective of contrast polarity, a reduction in stimulus figure-ground contrast <10% produces an accelerated decrement in photopic foveal vision compared to the performance at levels >10%. Some clinical and practical implications of this outcome are considered with regard to the examination of patients with normal and compromised visual function.

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