We evaluated the effect of substitutive noise on contrast sensitivity within the context of linear (Fourier) and nonlinear (non-Fourier) visual processes. Orientation judgments for D6 (sixth spatial derivative of Gaussian) patterns were obtained from three visually normal subjects when random regions of the target and background were occluded by small (1.7 arc min) pixel arrays that were either all of the same contrast polarity or a mixture of equal percentages of negative and positive contrast. The target was presented either synchronously or asynchronously with the occluding elements. Our results indicate that the manipulation of noise characteristics in this way can bias performance either toward a nonlinear process that is insensitive to noise contrast polarity but sensitive to temporal asynchrony or toward a quasi-linear process that is sensitive to noise contrast polarity but insensitive to temporal asynchrony. These findings have relevance to models of the effect of spatial sampling on the visual performance of persons with retinal disease.
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