Abstract

Visual detection of small black objects surrounded by a light background depends on background luminance, pupil size, optical blur, and object size. Holding pupil and optics fixed, we measured the minimum background luminance needed for foveal detection of small black targets as a function of target size. For all three observers, absolute threshold varied inversely with target area when disk diameter subtended less than 10 of visual angle. For target diameter 10, threshold remained constant at about 0.3 Td, which was also the absolute threshold for detecting light spots 10 or larger in diameter on a black background. These results are consistent with Ricco’s law of spatial summation: a “black hole” is just detectable when the background luminance is sufficiently high for its absence inside the Ricco area to reduce 555 nm photon flux by 7500 photons/s, which is the same change needed to detect light spots on a black surround. These results can be accounted for by a differential pair of Ricco detectors, each about the size of the receptive field center of magocellular retinal ganglion cells when projected into object space through the eye’s weakly aberrated optical system. Statistical analysis of the model suggests the quantum fluctuations due to internal, biological noise (i.e., “scotons”) are a greater handicap than the photon fluctuations inherent in the light stimulus at absolute foveal threshold.

© 2019 Optical Society of America

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