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Vision Res. 1998 Apr;38(7):985-1000.

Contrast-modulation flicker: dynamics and spatial resolution of the light adaptation process.

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Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455, USA.


We report a perceptual phenomenon that originates from a nonlinear operation during the visual process, and we use these observations to study the functional organization of the responsible nonlinearity; the regulation of visual sensitivity to light. When the contrast of a high frequency grating was modulated while its spatial and temporal average luminance was kept constant, observers saw brightness changes or desaturation in the field. If the contrast was modulated periodically between zero and a peak value, observers saw vivid flicker (contrast-modulation flicker), and this flicker could be seen even when the grating was too fine to be visually resolved as a pattern. This uniform-field flicker can be nulled by a modulation of space-average luminance at the contrast-modulation frequency, with appropriate phase and modulation depth. Contrast-modulation flicker is still measurable with gratings at 100 cycles/deg. The dynamics of contrast-modulation flicker suggest that it results from an early sensitivity-controlling mechanism, acting very rapidly (within about 20 msec). Its dependence on stimulus spatial frequency implies a strictly local luminance nonlinearity, one that either resides within individual photoreceptors or operates on signals from individual receptors.

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