We used a noise masking technique to test the hypothesis that detection is subserved by only two chromatic postreceptoral mechanisms (red–green and blue–yellow) and one achromatic (luminance) mechanism. The task was to detect a 1-c/deg Gaussian enveloped grating presented in a mask of static, spatially low-passed binary or Gaussian distributed noise. In the main experiment, the direction of the test stimulus (termed the signal) was constant in cone contrast space, and the direction of the noise was sampled in equally spaced directions within a plane (the noise plane) in the space. The signal was chosen to coincide with one of the three cardinal directions of three postulated mechanisms. The noise plane was selected to span two of the cardinal directions, including that chosen as the signal direction. As the noise direction was sampled around the noise plane, the signal detection threshold was found to vary in accordance with a linear cosine model, which predicted noise directions yielding maximum and minimum masking of the signal. In the direction of minimum masking (termed a null direction), the noise was found to have no masking effect on the signal. Moreover, the null was not orthogonal to the signal direction but lay instead in one of the cardinal directions. Our findings suggest that detection is mediated by only three mechanisms. In a further experiment we found little or no cross masking between each pair of cardinal directions up to the limit of our noise mask contrasts. This further supports the presence of no more than three independent postreceptoral mechanisms.
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