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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2005 Nov;46(11):4348-52.

When red lights look yellow.

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School of Optometry, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.



Red signals are typically used to signify danger. This study was conducted to investigate a situation identified by train drivers in which red signals appear yellow when viewed at long distances (approximately 900 m) through progressive-addition lenses.


A laboratory study was conducted to investigate the effects of defocus, target size, ambient illumination, and surround characteristics on the extent of the color misperception of train signals by nine visually normal participants. The data from the laboratory study were validated in a field study by measuring the amounts of defocus and the distances at which the misperception of the color of train signals was apparent and whether these distances varied as a function of time of day.


The laboratory study demonstrated that small red targets (approximately 1 min arc) can appear yellow when viewed through small amounts of defocus (approximately +0.75 D) under bright illumination (1910 cd/m(2)). In the field study, the defocus needed to produce the color misperception was similar to that found in the laboratory study. Time of day affected the color misperception, and there was no misperception at night.


The color misperception is not solely associated with progressive-addition lenses, but occurs in the presence of small amounts of positive defocus. The potential for the misperception to result in collisions and fatalities presents a major safety concern.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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