Color constancy in a naturalistic, goal-directed task

J Vis. 2015;15(13):3. doi: 10.1167/15.13.3.


In daily life, we use color information to select objects that will best serve a particular goal (e.g., pick the best-tasting fruit or avoid spoiled food). This is challenging when judgments must be made across changes in illumination as the spectrum reflected from an object to the eye varies with the illumination. Color constancy mechanisms serve to partially stabilize object color appearance across illumination changes, but whether and to what degree constancy supports accurate cross-illumination object selection is not well understood. To get closer to understanding how constancy operates in real-life tasks, we developed a paradigm in which subjects engage in a goal-directed task for which color is instrumental. Specifically, in each trial, subjects re-created an arrangement of colored blocks (the model) across a change in illumination. By analyzing the re-creations, we were able to infer and quantify the degree of color constancy that mediated subjects' performance. In Experiments 1 and 2, we used our paradigm to characterize constancy for two different sets of block reflectances, two different illuminant changes, and two different groups of subjects. On average, constancy was good in our naturalistic task, but it varied considerably across subjects. In Experiment 3, we tested whether varying scene complexity and the validity of local contrast as a cue to the illumination change modulated constancy. Increasing complexity did not lead to improved constancy; silencing local contrast significantly reduced constancy. Our results establish a novel goal-directed task that enables us to approach color constancy as it emerges in real life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Color Vision / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Young Adult