Brain Statistics Help Humans Perceive Hue, Saturation and Brightness

2006-04-06 08:43

Vision and Brain

Humans recognize differences in hue, saturation and brightness by using natural brain reflexes evolved from past experience, Duke University Medical Center researchers have found.

"The basic problem, recognized for several centuries, is that the image on our retinas can't specify what's out there in the world, in terms of color or any other aspect of vision," said Dale Purves, M.D., the George B. Geller Professor for Research in Neurobiology. "The light received by our retinal receptors tangles up illumination, reflectance and transmittance, the factors that go to making up a color stimulus. The only way to sort out the meaning of such ambiguous information is through trial and error."

This strategy is a means of solving the so-called "inverse problem" as it pertains to color, Purves said. Thus, as light comes in through the eye, the brain perceives color properties by generating the likely answer using a vast database of results from previous situations, the researchers argue.

The team's findings appeared this week in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will be published in the journal's April 11, 2006, edition. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Geller Endowment.

The study by Purves and colleagues Fuhui Long, Ph.D., and Zhiyong Yang, Ph.D., builds on their earlier research into how the brain processes information from the eyes on a wholly empirical basis, rather than by analysis of stimulus features as such.