We found that inspecting a sine-wave grating elevated threshold for spatial-frequency discrimination as it does for contrast detection, but discrimination threshold was maximally elevated at about twice the adapting frequency, where detection threshold was little affected; and detection threshold was maximally elevated at the adapting frequency, where discrimination threshold was not elevated at all. Orientation tuning was roughly similar for contrast and for discrimination threshold elevations; elevations fell by half at between 7 and 17 deg from the adapting orientation. We compared our findings with the predictions of three models of discrimination: (1) The data are inconsistent with the idea that the most strongly stimulated channels are the most important channels for discrimination. (2) With an additional assumption, the Hirsch–Hylton scaled-lattice model could account for our finding that discrimination threshold elevations are asymmetric. (3) With no additional assumptions, the idea that discrimination is determined by the relative activities of multiple overlapping spatial-frequency channels or size-tuned neurons can account for our finding that discrimination thresholds are asymmetric. We propose a physiologically based discrimination model: Asymmetrically tuned cortical cells feed a ratio-tuned neural mechanism whose properties are formally analogous to those of ratio-tuned neurons that have recently been found in cat visual cortex. The linear relation between firing frequency and contrast can explain why discrimination threshold is substantially independent of contrast.
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