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Perception. 1988;17(4):483-95.

How contrast affects stereoacuity.

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Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60201.


Stereoacuity and its dependence on contrast were measured at four spatial frequencies separated by 1 octave steps. Using a method of adjustment, observers adjusted the retinal disparity of an aperiodic narrow-band stimulus until it appeared in the depth plane defined by two flanking reference lines. Variations in contrast affected stereoacuity (the standard deviation of ten depth settings), with better performance observed at higher contrasts. Data were fit with straight lines (on a log-log plot), indicating a power-law dependence on contrast; the slope was steeper at lower spatial frequencies. These findings are consistent with the idea that disparity is computed from the responses of size-tuned mechanisms characterized by nonlinear contrast transfer functions. In a second experiment, the effects of interocular differences in contrast on stereoacuity were studied for two conditions. In the first condition, one eye always viewed a high-contrast target while the other eye viewed targets of successively lower contrast; in the second condition, one eye always saw a target of near-threshold contrast while the other eye saw targets of successively higher contrast. When the fixed contrast was high, stereoacuity deteriorated steadily as the interocular difference in contrast increased; the loss of stereoacuity was greatest at the lowest spatial frequency. When the fixed contrast was low, however, small increases in the contrast to one eye had no deleterious effect on stereoacuity. Once interocular contrast settings exceeded a certain difference, stereoscopic acuity began to deteriorate at lower spatial frequencies. These results address the issue of the stage of visual processing at which contrast exerts its influence on stereopsis.

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