Many perceptual dimensions are thought to be represented relative to an average value or norm. Models of norm-based coding assume that the norm appears psychologically neutral because it reflects a neutral response in the underlying neural code. We tested this assumption in human color vision by asking how judgments of “white” are affected as neural responses are altered by adaptation. The adapting color was varied to determine the stimulus level that did not bias the observer’s subjective white point. This level represents a response norm at the stages at which sensitivity is regulated by the adaptation, and we show that these response norms correspond to the perceptually neutral stimulus and that they can account for how the perception of white varies both across different observers and within the same observer at different locations in the visual field. We also show that individual differences in perceived white are reduced when observers are exposed to a common white adapting stimulus, suggesting that the perceptual differences are due in part to differences in how neural responses are normalized. These results suggest a close link between the norms for appearance and coding in color vision and illustrate a general paradigm for exploring this link in other perceptual domains.
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