Psychophysical measurement of contrast sensitivity in the behaving mouse

J Neurophysiol. 2012 Feb;107(3):758-65. doi: 10.1152/jn.00609.2011. Epub 2011 Nov 2.


To understand how activity in mammalian neural circuits controls behavior, the mouse is a promising model system due to the convergence of genetic, optical, and physiological methods. The ability to control and quantify behavior precisely is also essential for these studies. We developed an operant visual detection paradigm to make visual psychophysical measurements: head-fixed mice make responses by pressing a lever. We designed this task to permit neurophysiological studies of behavior in cerebral cortex, where activity is variable from trial to trial and neurons encode many types of information simultaneously. To study neural responses in the face of this complexity, we trained mice to do a task where they perform hundreds of trials daily and perceptual thresholds can be measured. We used this task to measure both visual acuity and the minimum detectable contrast in behaving mice. We found that the mouse contrast response function is similar in shape to other species. They can detect low-contrast stimuli, with a peak contrast threshold of 2%, equivalent to ∼15° eccentric in human vision. Mouse acuity is modest, with an upper limit near 0.5 cycles/°, consistent with prior data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Visual Acuity / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*