Estimates of the relative numbers of long-wavelength-sensitive (L) and middle-wavelength-sensitive (M) cones vary considerably among normal trichromats and depend significantly on the nature of the experimental method employed. Here we estimate L/M cone ratios in a population of normal observers, using three psychophysical tasks—detection thresholds for cone-isolating stimuli at different temporal frequencies, heterochromatic flicker photometry, and cone contrast ratios at minimal flicker perception—as well as flicker electroretinography and retinal densitometry. The psychophysical tasks involving high temporal frequencies, specifically designed to tap into the luminance channel, provide average L/M cone ratios that significantly differ from unity with large interindividual variation. In contrast, the psychophysical tasks involving low temporal frequencies, chosen to tap into the red–green chromatic channel, provide L/M cone ratios that are always close to unity. L/M cone ratios determined from electroretinographic recordings or from retinal densitometry correlate with those determined from the high-temporal-frequency tasks. These findings suggest that the sensitivity of the luminance channel is directly related to the relative densities of the L and the M cones and that the red–green chromatic channel introduces a gain adjustment to compensate for differences in L and M cone signal strength.
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