Attentional effect on contrast appearance: From enhancement to attenuation

Liu Fang Zhou, Simona Buetti, Shena Lu, Yong Chun Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Does attention alter appearance? Recent studies have shown that an exogenous cue tends to increase the perceived contrast of a low-contrast stimulus. In the present study we systematically studied the attentional effect over a wide range of contrast levels (15% to 60%). Besides replicating the enhancement at lower contrast levels with higher comparative tasks (Experiment 1), the data revealed a cue-induced attenuation in apparent contrast at higher contrast levels with lower comparative tasks (Experiment 2) and same/different judgment task (Experiment 3). This attenuation effect was robust at the individual level, and it was not due to response bias or sensory interactions (Experiments 3 and 4). These results suggest that attention modulates contrast appearance and this effect depends on both the contrast level and the type of judgment task used. We propose that our findings can be understood through contrast gain mechanism on supersatuating neurons, whose response increases first as the stimulus intensity increases, but decrease the responses after the peak. This surprising phenomenon offers insights for the underlying neural mechanisms of visual processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)806-817
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Appearance
  • Attention
  • Contrast
  • Supersaturation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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