Visual adaptation as optimal information transmission

Vision Res. 1999 Nov;39(23):3960-74. doi: 10.1016/s0042-6989(99)00101-7.


We propose that visual adaptation in orientation, spatial frequency, and motion can be understood from the perspective of optimal information transmission. The essence of the proposal is that neural response properties at the system level should be adjusted to the changing statistics of the input so as to maximize information transmission. We show that this principle accounts for several well-documented psychophysical phenomena, including the tilt aftereffect, change in contrast sensitivity and post-adaptation changes in orientation discrimination. Adaptation can also be considered on a longer time scale, in the context of tailoring response properties to natural scene statistics. From the anisotropic distribution of power in natural scenes, the proposal also predicts differences in the contrast sensitivity function across spatial frequency and orientation, including the oblique effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Figural Aftereffect
  • Humans
  • Orientation