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J Vis. 2014 Aug 19;14(9). pii: 15. doi: 10.1167/14.9.15.

Human vision is attuned to the diffuseness of natural light.

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Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.
Department of Psychology and Center for Perceptual Systems, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA.
Department of Psychology and Centre for Vision Research, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada.


All images are highly ambiguous, and to perceive 3-D scenes, the human visual system relies on assumptions about what lighting conditions are most probable. Here we show that human observers' assumptions about lighting diffuseness are well matched to the diffuseness of lighting in real-world scenes. We use a novel multidirectional photometer to measure lighting in hundreds of environments, and we find that the diffuseness of natural lighting falls in the same range as previous psychophysical estimates of the visual system's assumptions about diffuseness. We also find that natural lighting is typically directional enough to override human observers' assumption that light comes from above. Furthermore, we find that, although human performance on some tasks is worse in diffuse light, this can be largely accounted for by intrinsic task difficulty. These findings suggest that human vision is attuned to the diffuseness levels of natural lighting conditions.


diffuseness; ideal observer; lighting statistics; lightness; prior

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