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Nature. 1993 Jan 28;361(6410):348-50.

Colour is what the eye sees best.

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Division of Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.


It has been argued by Watson, Barlow and Robson that the visual stimulus that humans detect best specifies the spatial-temporal structure of the receptive field of the most sensitive visual neurons. To investigate 'what the eye sees best' they used stimuli that varied in luminance alone. Because the most abundant primate retinal ganglion cells, the P cells, are colour-opponent, we might expect that a coloured pattern would also be detected well. We generalized Watson et al.'s study to include variations in colour as well as luminance. We report here that our best detected coloured stimulus was seen 5-9-fold better than our best luminance spot and 3-8-fold better than Watson's best luminance stimulus. The high sensitivity to colour is consistent with the prevalence and high colour contrast-gain of retinal P cells, and may compensate for the low chromatic contrasts typically found in natural scenes.

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