Influence of background on image recognition in normal vision and age-related macular degeneration

Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2011 May;31(3):203-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00820.x. Epub 2011 Mar 17.


Purpose: The influence of background attenuation on the spatial frequency bandwidth requirements for image recognition was assessed in normal young and older groups and in a group with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Bandwidth requirements were also assessed in the visual periphery of young normal observers.

Methods: In Experiment 1, each observer was presented with 20 series of images. Each series consisted of a sequence of progressively low-pass filtered images, presented in an order of increasing bandwidth, i.e., according to an ascending method of limits. For half of the series, the background of the base image was selectively darkened by 80% of its original luminance. Three measures were analyzed: (1) the critical bandwidth defined as the bandwidth in cycles/image (cpi) at which 50% of the images were recognized, (2) the minimal bandwidth, defined as the minimal bandwidth at which images were recognized and (3) the proportion of images recognized at full bandwidth. In Experiment 2, young normal observers were similarly tested in central vision and at 5.5° eccentricity (superior or inferior visual field). A third background attenuation condition was included, as well, in which the background was low-pass filtered.

Results: The critical bandwidth for image recognition was significantly reduced by darkening the image background for normal young and old and the AMD groups. This improvement was found to be contrast dependent for the darkened background. In addition, AMD observers tended to recognize more images at full bandwidth if the background was darkened. For normal young observers, making the background low-pass was ineffective in lowering the critical bandwidth in the fovea. Fewer images were recognized at full bandwidth at 5.5° eccentricity for a low-pass background and marginally fewer for a darkened background.

Conclusions: Selective attenuation of the image background can lead to reductions in the bandwidth requirements for image recognition in AMD. However, performance of young normal observers for images presented in the periphery was unlike AMD performance under the conditions investigated. These results have interesting implications for the design of image enhancement algorithms to aid low vision observers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Humans
  • Macular Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vision Tests / instrumentation
  • Vision Tests / methods*
  • Visual Acuity / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology