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Explaining the Cornsweet illusion


A long-standing puzzle in vision is the assignment of illusory brightness values to visual territories based on the characteristics of their edges (the Craik–O’Brien–Cornsweet effect).

Here we show that the perception of the equiluminant territories flanking the Cornsweet edge varies according to whether these regions are more likely to be similarly illuminated surfaces having the same material properties or unequally illuminated surfaces with different properties. Thus, if the likelihood is increased that these territories are surfaces with similar reflectance properties under the same illuminant, the Craik–O’Brien–Cornsweet effect is diminished; conversely, if the likelihood is increased that the adjoining territories are differently reflective surfaces receiving different amounts of illumination, the effect is enhanced. These findings indicate that the Craik–O’Brien–Cornsweet effect is determined by the relative probabilities of the possible sources of the luminance profiles in the stimulus.



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An empirical explanation of the Cornsweet effect.

Purves, D., Shimpi, A. and Lotto, R.B. (1999)

From the cover: An empirical explanation of the Cornsweet effect.

Journal of Neuroscience. 19:8542-8551.
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