The central tendency bias in color perception: effects of internal and external noise

J Vis. 2014 Sep 5;14(11):5. doi: 10.1167/14.11.5.


Perceptual estimates can be biased by previously seen stimuli in delayed estimation tasks. These biases are often toward the mean of the whole stimulus set. Recently, we demonstrated such a central tendency bias in delayed color estimation. In the Bayesian framework of perceptual inference, perceptual biases arise when noisy sensory measurements are combined with prior information about the world. Here, we investigate this idea in color perception by manipulating stimulus range and stimulus noise while characterizing delayed color estimates. First, we manipulated the experimental prior for stimulus color by embedding stimuli in collections with different hue ranges. Stimulus range affected hue bias: Hue estimates were always biased toward the mean of the current set. Next, we studied the effect of internal and external noise on the amount of hue bias. Internal noise was manipulated by increasing the delay between the reference and test from 0.4 to 4 s. External noise was manipulated by increasing the amount of chromatic noise in the reference stimulus, while keeping the delay between the reference and test constant at 2 s. Both noise manipulations had a reliable effect on the strength of the central tendency bias. Furthermore, there was a tendency for a positive relationship between variability of the estimates and bias in both noise conditions. In conclusion, observers are able to learn an experimental hue prior, and the weight on the prior can be manipulated by introducing noise in the estimation process.

Keywords: color appearance; color discrimination; memory; probabilistic inference.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem*
  • Bias*
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Noise