Perception of lightness and illumination in a world of one reflectance

Perception. 1984;13(1):5-19. doi: 10.1068/p130005.


Observers looked into a miniature room in which everything was painted matte white, or--in another room--matte black. They made both reflectance and illumination judgments for eight test spots. The test spots (which varied in luminance) were perceived as approximately equal in reflectance--not different, as conventional contrast theories would seem to require. The illumination matches made to the same points, however, closely paralleled the pattern of actual illumination levels, and this result is discussed as evidence that edges are classified as changes in either reflectance or illumination. The white room was correctly perceived as white, and the black room was perceived as middle gray; similar results were obtained even when the luminances in the black room were higher (owing to higher illumination) than the corresponding luminances in the white room. An explanation in terms of differences in gradient patterns is presented and supported with luminance profiles.

MeSH terms

  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Lighting*
  • Psychophysics
  • Visual Perception*