Contrast masking was studied psychophysically. A two-alternative forced-choice procedure was used to measure contrast thresholds for 2.0 cpd sine-wave gratings in the presence of masking sine-wave gratings. Thresholds were measured for 11 masker contrasts spanning three log units, and seven masker frequencies ranging ± one octave from the signal frequency. Corresponding measurements were made for gratings with horizontal widths of 0.75° (narrow fields) and 6.0° (wide fields). For high contrast maskers at all frequencies, signal thresholds were related to masking contrast by power functions with exponents near 0.6. For a range of low masking contrasts, signal thresholds were reduced by the masker. For the wide fields, high contrast masking tuning functions peaked at the signal frequency, were slightly asymmetric, and had approximately invariant half-maximum frequencies that lie 3/4 octave below and 1 octave above the signal frequency. The corresponding low contrast tuning functions exhibited peak threshold reduction at the signal frequency, with half-minimum frequencies at roughly ± 0.25 octaves. For the narrow fields, the masking tuning functions were much broader at both low and high masking contrasts. A masking model is presented that encompasses contrast detection, discrimination, and masking phenomena. Central constructs of the model include a linear spatial frequency filter, a nonlinear transducer, and a process of spatial pooling that acts at low contrasts only.
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