Abstract

The contrast sensitivity of the visual system to interference fringes has been measured in the range from 10 to 65 cycles/deg with a forced-choice psychophysical procedure. Masking produced by the spatial-noise characteristic of coherent fields was avoided by diluting the interferometric field with a fixed amount of uniform, incoherent light. The loss of contrast sensitivity between 10 and 60 cycles/deg ranged from 0.85 to 1.5 log units depending on the observer. Despite these individual differences, the mean contrast sensitivity for six observers at 60 cycles/deg was more than a factor of 8 higher than the most sensitive previous estimates, suggesting that the neural visual system is much more sensitive to fine detail than previously believed. The most sensitive observer required only 4% contrast to detect a 60-cycle/deg interference fringe. Even the shallow interferometric contrast-sensitivity functions reported here are too steep to be explained solely by scattered light at the retina. It is argued that the optical properties of the photoreceptor mosaic make a negligible contribution to the contrast-sensitivity loss between 0 and 60 cycles/deg, and neural factors must be implicated.

© 1985 Optical Society of America

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