Does human color constancy incorporate the statistical regularity of natural daylight?

J Vis. 2004 Feb 18;4(2):57-81. doi: 10.1167/4.2.1.


The chromaticities of natural daylights cluster around the blackbody locus. We investigated whether the mechanisms that mediate human color constancy embody this statistical regularity of the natural environment, so that constancy is best when the illuminant change is one likely to occur. Observers viewed scenes displayed on a CRT-based stereoscope and adjusted a test patch embedded in the scene until it appeared achromatic. Scenes were rendered using physics-based graphics software (RADIANCE) coupled with custom extensions that ensured colorimetric accuracy. Across conditions, both the simulated illuminant and the simulated reflectance of scene objects were varied. Achromatic settings from paired conditions were used to compute a constancy index (CI) that characterizes the stability of object appearance across the two illuminants of the pair. Constancy indices were measured for four illuminant changes from a Neutral illuminant (CIE D65). Two of these changes (Blue and Yellow) were consistent with the statistics of daylight, whereas two (Green and Red) were not. The results indicate that constancy was least across the Red change, as one would expect for the statistics of natural daylight. Constancy for the Green direction, however, exceeded that for the Yellow illuminant change and was comparable to that for the Blue. This result is difficult to reconcile with the hypothesis that mechanisms of human constancy incorporate the statistics of daylights. Some possible reasons for the discrepancy are discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology