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J Vis. 2010 Nov 24;10(13):17. doi: 10.1167/10.13.17.

Adaptation and visual salience.

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Department of Psychology/296, University of Nevada-Reno, NV 89557, USA.


We examined how the salience of color is affected by adaptation to different color distributions. Observers searched for a color target on a dense background of distractors varying along different directions in color space. Prior adaptation to the backgrounds enhanced search on the same background while adaptation to orthogonal background directions slowed detection. Advantages of adaptation were seen for both contrast adaptation (to different color axes) and chromatic adaptation (to different mean chromaticities). Control experiments, including analyses of eye movements during the search, suggest that these aftereffects are unlikely to reflect simple learning or changes in search strategies on familiar backgrounds, and instead result from how adaptation alters the relative salience of the target and background colors. Comparable effects were observed along different axes in the chromatic plane or for axes defined by different combinations of luminance and chromatic contrast, consistent with visual search and adaptation mediated by multiple color mechanisms. Similar effects also occurred for color distributions characteristic of natural environments with strongly selective color gamuts. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that adaptation may play an important functional role in highlighting the salience of novel stimuli by discounting ambient properties of the visual environment.

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