PMID: 16358419Dec 20, 2005

Perceiving illumination inconsistencies in scenes

Yuri OstrovskyPawan Sinha


The human visual system is adept at detecting and encoding statistical regularities in its spatiotemporal environment. Here, we report an unexpected failure of this ability in the context of perceiving inconsistencies in illumination distributions across a scene. Prior work with arrays of objects all having uniform reflectance has shown that one inconsistently illuminated target can 'pop out' among a field of consistently illuminated objects (eg Enns and Rensink, 1990 Science 247 721 723; Sun and Perona, 1997 Perception 26 519-529). In these studies, the luminance pattern of the odd target could be interpreted as arising from either an inconsistent illumination or inconsistent pigmentation of the target. Either cue might explain the rapid detection. In contrast, we find that once the geometrical regularity of the previous displays is removed, the visual system is remarkably insensitive to illumination inconsistencies, both in experimental stimuli and in altered images of real scenes. Whether the target is interpreted as oddly illuminated or oddly pigmented, it is very difficult to find if the only cue is deviation from the regularity of illumination or reflectance. Our results allow us to draw inferences about how the visual sy...Continue Reading


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