Contrast sensitivity

Gregory William Schwartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Contrast is the fractional change in illumination from the mean over space or time. Photon detection sets the absolute sensitivity limit of vision in darkness, but contrast sensitivity sets the detection limit in other luminance regimes where photons are no longer sparse. Humans can perceive contrasts as small as 0.5%. The first part of this chapter discusses the retinal mechanisms that support high contrast sensitivity from the perspective of maximizing the signal-to-noise ratio. The second part of the chapter explores how high sensitivity can be achieved across the huge dynamic range of natural scenes without engaging adaptation but instead by distributing peak sensitivity ranges among different neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRetinal Computation
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9780128198964
StatePublished - Aug 17 2021


  • Bipolar cells
  • Contrast
  • Distributed code
  • OFF delta RGC
  • OFF sustained alpha RGC
  • Push-pull mechanism
  • Signal-to-noise ratio
  • Visual scene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine
  • General Neuroscience


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