Role of Low-level Mechanisms in Brightness Perception
Brightness judgments are a key part of the primate brain's visual analysis of the environment. There is general consensus that the perceived brightness of an image region is based not only on its actual luminance, but also on the photometric structure of its neighborhood. However, it is unclear precisely how a region's context influences its perceived brightness. Recent research has suggested that brightness estimation may be based on a sophisticated analysis of scene layout in terms of transparency, illumination and shadows. This work has called into question the role of low-level mechanisms, such as lateral inhibition, as explanations for brightness phenomena. Here we describe experiments with displays for which low-level and high-level analyses make qualitatively different predictions, and with which we can quantitatively assess the trade-offs between low-level and high-level factors. We find that brightness percepts in these displays are governed by low-level stimulus properties, even when these percepts are inconsistent with higher-level interpretations of scene layout. These results point to the important role of low-level mechanisms in determining brightness percepts.