The time course of visual afterimages: data and theory

Perception. 2006;35(9):1155-70. doi: 10.1068/p5521.


Sequential viewing of two orthogonally related patterns produces an afterimage of the first pattern (Vidyasagar et al, 1999 Nature 399 422-423; Francis and Rothmayer, 2003 Perception and Psychophysics 65 508-522). We investigated how the timing between the first stimulus (a vertical bar grating) and the second stimulus (a horizontal bar grating) affected the visibility of the afterimage (a perceived vertical grating). As the duration from offset of the first stimulus increased, reports of afterimages decreased. Holding fixed the total time from offset of the first stimulus and increasing the duration from offset of the second stimulus while decreasing the time between the first and second stimuli, caused a decrease in afterimage reports. We interpret this finding in terms of Grossberg's BCS - FCS (boundary contour system--feature contour system) theory. In this theory, the afterimage percept is the result of color complement after-responses in the FCS system interacting with orientation after-responses in the BCS system. The two types of after-responses interact at a stage of neural filling-in to produce the afterimage percept. As the duration between the stimuli increases, the color after-responses weaken so that visible filling-in is less likely to occur. A similar effect occurs for the orientation after-responses but at a faster time scale. Simulations of the model match the experimental data.

MeSH terms

  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Computer Graphics
  • Figural Aftereffect / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychophysics
  • Time