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Chapter 6: The Visual System

How We See
Sensation & Perception
What are Sensation and Perception?

Truth or Fiction?
People have five senses.

• Sensation is stimulation of sensory receptors and

transmission of sensory information to the central nervous
• Perception is process by which sensations are organized
and interpreted to form an inner representation of the
Absolute Threshold

• Weakest amount of a stimulus that can be

distinguished from no stimulus at all
– Detected 50% of the time
Difference Threshold

• Minimum difference in magnitude of two stimuli

required to tell them apart
– Detected 50% of the time
• Weber’s constant
– Standard of difference
• Light – 2% of intensity
• Weight – 2% of weight
• Sound – one-third of 1% change in pitch (frequency)
• Taste – 20% difference in saltiness
• Just noticeable difference (jnd)
– Minimum difference a person can detect
Signal-Detection Theory

• Truth or Fiction?
People sometimes hear what they want to hear.

• Stimulus characteristics and psychological factors

interact to influence whether a stimulus is detected.
– Psychological factors such as learning, motivation,
and psychological states
Feature Detectors

• Neurons that respond to different aspects of features

– visual – respond to lines, color, textures, movement
– auditory – respond to pitch, loudness, etc.
Sensory Adaptation

• Sensitization
– Positive adaptation – Process by which we become
more sensitive to stimuli of low magnitude
• Desensitization
– Negative adaptation – Process by which we
become less sensitive to stimuli that remains the
Chapter 6: The Visual System

How We See

• Truth or Fiction?
If we could see waves of light with slightly longer
wavelengths, warm-blooded animals would glow
in the dark

• Spectrum of electromagnetic energy

– Vary in wavelength
• Within visible light, color is determined by
• Prism separates wavelengths
The Visible Spectrum
The Eye

• Light enters through a narrow opening

– Cornea – transparent eye cover
– Iris – muscle; colored part of the eye
– Pupil – opening in the iris
• Sensitive to light and emotion
The Human Eye
The Eye

• Lens
– Changes in thickness for focusing
– Image is projected onto retina
• Light Sensitive Surface
– Retina
• Photoreceptors
–Rods, Cones, Bipolar and ganglion cells
The Human Eye
The Eye

• Optic Nerve
– Axons of ganglion neurons form optic nerve
– Conducts sensory input to brain (occipital lobe)
The Human Eye
Rods and Cones

• Cones
– Most densely packed in center of
retina (fovea)
– Provide color vision
• Rods
– Provide vision in black and white
– More sensitive to dim light than
Visual Acuity

• Greatest in the fovea

• Blind spot
– Point in retina where ganglion cells converge
• Nearsightedness
• Farsightedness
• Presbyopia
Light Adaptation

• Dark adaptation
– Process of adjusting to lower lighting
• Cones reach maximum adaptation in about 10
• Rods continue to adapt up to 45 minutes
• Adaptation to bright light
– Process occurs within a minute or so
Perceptual Dimensions of Color

• Hue (color)
– Wavelength of light
• Value
– Degree of brightness or darkness
• Saturation
– Intensity of color
Perceptual Dimensions of Color
Perceptual Dimensions of Color

Truth or Fiction?
When we mix blue and yellow light, we obtain green

• Complementary Colors
– Colors across from one another on color wheel
– Mix complementary colors = gray
• Refers to light not pigments
• Light is the source of all colors
– Pigments reflect and absorb light selectively
Color Wheel
Perceptual Dimensions of Color

• Afterimage
– Persistent sensations of color are followed by
perception of the complementary color when the
first color is removed
Theories of Color

• Trichromatic Theory
– Three types of cones
• Respond to red, green, or blue
• Opponent-Process Theory
– Three types of color receptors
• Respond to red or green, blue or yellow, or light
or dark
• Cannot respond to both at simultaneously
Plates from a Test for Color Blindness
Color Blindness

• Trichromat
– Normal color vision
• Monochromat
– Totally color blind
• Dichromat
– Partial color blindness
– Discriminate between two colors
– More common in males (sex linked trait)
Visual Perception
Visual Perception

• Process used to organize sensory impressions caused

by the light that strikes our eyes
• Sensation is a mechanical process
• Perception is an active process
– Involves experience, expectations and motivations
Perceptual Organization

• Figure – Ground Perception

– Ambiguous, unstable figures
The Rubin Vase
Gestalt Rules for Perceptual Organization
Gestalt Rules for Perceptual Organization
Gestalt Rules for Perceptual Organization
Gestalt Rules for Perceptual Organization
Gestalt Rules for Perceptual Organization
Gestalt Rules for Perceptual Organization

• Proximity
– Nearness of objects
• Similarity
– Similarity of objects
• Continuity
– Series of points having unity
• Closure
– Objects are perceived as being whole when they are
Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Processing

• Top-Down Processing
– Perception of the whole followed by perception of
the parts
• Bottom-Up Processing
– Perception of the parts leads to perception of the
Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Processing
Perception of Motion

• Visual perception of motion is based on change of

position relative to other objects
• Illusions of movement
– Stroboscopic motion
• a visual illusion in which the perception of motion is
generated by a series of stationary images that are
presented in rapid succession
Depth Perception

• Monocular Cues
• perspective – a monocular cue for depth based on the
convergence (coming together) of parallel lines as they recede
into the distance
Depth Perception

• Monocular Cues
• texture gradient – a monocular cue for depth based on the
perception that closer objects appear to have rougher (more
detailed) surfaces
Depth Perception

• Monocular Cues
• motion parallax – a monocular cue for depth based on the
perception that nearby objects appear to move more rapidly in
relation to our own motion
Depth Perception

• Binocular Cues
• retinal disparity – a binocular cue for depth based on the
difference in the image cast by an object on the retinas of the
eyes as the object moves closer or farther away

• convergence – a binocular cue for depth based on the inward

movement of the eyes as they attempt to focus on an object
that is drawing nearer
Eye Position and Binocular
• Convergence: eyes must turn slightly inward
when objects are close
• Binocular disparity: the difference between
the images on the two retinas
• Both are greater when objects are close—
together, they provide the brain with a 3-D
image and distance information.
The Retina and Translation of Light
into Neural Signals
⚫The retina is, in a sense, inside-out.
⚫Light passes through several cell layers before
reaching its receptors.
⚫Vertical pathway: receptors > bipolar cells >
retinal ganglion cells
⚫Lateral Communication
⚫Horizontal cells
⚫Amacrine cells
The cellular structure of the mammalian retina.
The Retina and Translation of
Light into Neural Signals (Con’t)
• Blind spot: no receptors where information
exits the eye
– The visual system uses information from cells
around the blind spot for “completion,” filling in the
blind spot.
• Fovea: high-acuity area at center of retina
– Thinning of the ganglion cell layer reduces
distortion due to cells between the pupil and the
A section of the retina. The fovea is
the indentation at the center of the
retina; it is specialized for high-acuity
Cone and Rod Vision

⚫ Duplexity theory of vision: cones and rod mediate

different kinds of vision.
⚫ Cones: photopic (daytime) vision
⚫ High-acuity color information in good lighting
⚫ Rods: scotopic (nighttime) vision
⚫ High-sensitivity, allowing for low-acuity vision in dim light,
but lacks detail and color information
⚫ There is more convergence in the rod system,
increasing sensitivity while decreasing acuity.
⚫ Only cones are found at the fovea.
A schematic representation of the convergence of cones and rods
on retinal ganglion cells. There is a low degree of convergence in
cone-fed pathways and a high degree of convergence in rod-fed
The distribution of cones and rods over the human retina. The figure
illustrates the number of cones and rods per square millimeter as a
function of distance from the center of the fovea.
(Based on Lindsay & Norman, 1977.)
Spectral Sensitivity

⚫Lights of the same intensity but different

wavelengths may not all look equally bright.
⚫A spectral sensitivity curve shows the
relationship between wavelength and
⚫There are different spectral sensitivity curves
for photopic (cone) vision and scotopic (rod)
FIGURE 6.10 Human photopic (cone) and scotopic (rod) spectral
sensitivity curves. The peak of each curve has been arbitrarily set
at 100%.
Eye Movement

⚫We continually scan the world with small and

quick eye movements: saccades.
⚫These bits of information are then integrated.
⚫Stabilize retinal image; see nothing.
⚫The visual system responds to change.
Visual Transduction: The Conversion
of Light to Neural Signals

⚫Transduction: conversion of one form of

energy to another
⚫Visual transduction: conversion of light to
neural signals by visual receptors
⚫Pigments absorb light.
⚫Absorption spectrum describes spectral
FIGURE 6.11 The adsorption spectrum of
rhodopsin compared with the human
scotopic spectral sensitivity curve.
Visual Transduction: The
Conversion of Light to Neural
Signals (Con’t)
⚫ Rhodopsin is the pigment found in rods.
⚫ A G-protein-linked receptor that responds to light
rather than to neurotransmitters.
⚫ In the Dark
⚫ Na+ channels remain partially open (partial
depolarization), releasing glutamate.
⚫ When Light Strikes
⚫ Na+ channels close.
⚫ Rods hyperpolarize, inhibiting glutamate release.
The inhibitory response of
rods to light. When light
bleaches rhodopsin
molecules, the rods’ sodium
channels close; as a result,
the rods become
hyperpolarized and release
less glutamate.
From Retina to Primary
Visual Cortex
⚫ The retinal-geniculate-striate pathways include about 90
percent of axons of retinal ganglion cells.
⚫ The left hemiretina of each eye (right visual field)
connects to the right lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN); the
right hemiretina (left visual field) connects to the left
⚫ Most LGN neurons that project to primary visual cortex
(V1, striate cortex) terminate in the lower part of cortical
layer IV.
The retina-geniculate-striate
system: the neural projections
from the retinas through the
lateral geniculate nuclei to the
left and right primary visual
cortex (striate cortex). The colors
indicate the flow of information
from various parts of the
receptive fields of each eye to
various parts of the visual
system. (Based on Netter, 1962.)