Abstract

Humans have been shown to rapidly detect animals in naturalistic scenes, but the role of color in this task is unclear. We first analyze the color information contained in a large number of images of salient and camouflaged animals in generic backgrounds. We found that color distributions of most animals and of their immediate backgrounds were oriented along other than the cardinal directions of color space. In addition, the maximum distances between animals and background distributions also tended to be along noncardinal directions, suggesting a role for higher-order cortical color mechanisms whose preferred axes are distributed widely in color space. We measured temporal thresholds for segmenting animal color distributions from background distributions in the absence of spatial cues. Combined over all observers and all images in our sample, thresholds for segmenting isoluminant projections of these distributions were lower than for segmenting the original distributions and considerably lower than for segmenting achromatic projections. Color information is thus likely to be useful in segregating animals in generic views, i.e., views not purposely chosen by the photographer to enhance the visibility of the animal. However, a comparison of thresholds with distances between distributions failed to reveal any advantage conferred by higher-order color mechanisms.

© 2016 Optical Society of America

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