Color vision is form and object vision

John S Werner, Michael A. Webster

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Scopus citations


Color vision is inseparable from spatial vision. Chromatic and achromatic aspects of visual experience together subserve our perception of the forms of objects. This view is supported by physiological studies demonstrating that both color and luminance are carried along with form information on the same optic nerve fibers, albeit at different spatial scales. These scale differences can be summarized by contrast sensitivity functions measured with chromatic and achromatic spatial sinusoids, and may be illustrated by digitally filtered images that separate achromatic and chromatic variations. Analyses of the chromatic content of natural images also demonstrate a close link with the chromatic and spatial tuning of neural pathways. While characteristic properties of natural scenes can predict general characteristics of visual coding, color can vary widely across individual images, and thus could not be represented optimally by a fixed visual system. However, color coding is not fixed, but rather adjusts to both the average color and distribution of colors in scenes through processes of adaptation. Such adjustments may support color constancy and coding efficiency, and may also optimize detection and discrimination of colors that are novel in an image. Finally, the spatial properties of color-coding mechanisms are essential to our perception of figure and ground. Chromatic (border) contrast enhances the difference between figure and ground, while homogenization of object surfaces is facilitated by short-and long-range processes of assimilation and color spreading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
EditorsR Chung, A Rodrigues
Number of pages6
StatePublished - 2001
Event9th Congress of the International Colour Association - Rochester, NY, United States
Duration: Jun 24 2001Jun 29 2001


Other9th Congress of the International Colour Association
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityRochester, NY


  • Adaptation
  • Assimilation
  • Color and form
  • Color constancy
  • Color pathways
  • Contrast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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