An exponential filter model predicts lightness illusions

Astrid Zeman*, Kevin R. Brooks, Sennay Ghebreab

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Lightness, or perceived reflectance of a surface, is influenced by surrounding context. This is demonstrated by the Simultaneous Contrast Illusion (SCI), where a gray patch is perceived lighter against a black background and vice versa. Conversely, assimilation is where the lightness of the target patch moves toward that of the bounding areas and can be demonstrated in White's effect. Blakeslee and McCourt (1999) introduced an oriented difference-of-Gaussian (ODOG) model that is able to account for both contrast and assimilation in a number of lightness illusions and that has been subsequently improved using localized normalization techniques. We introduce a model inspired by image statistics that is based on a family of exponential filters, with kernels spanning across multiple sizes and shapes. We include an optional second stage of normalization based on contrast gain control. Our model was tested on a well-known set of lightness illusions that have previously been used to evaluate ODOG and its variants, and model lightness values were compared with typical human data. We investigate whether predictive success depends on filters of a particular size or shape and whether pooling information across filters can improve performance. The best single filter correctly predicted the direction of lightness effects for 21 out of 27 illusions. Combining two filters together increased the best performance to 23, with asymptotic performance at 24 for an arbitrarily large combination of filter outputs. While normalization improved prediction magnitudes, it only slightly improved overall scores in direction predictions. The prediction performance of 24 out of 27 illusions equals that of the best performing ODOG variant, with greater parsimony. Our model shows that V1-style orientation-selectivity is not necessary to account for lightness illusions and that a low-level model based on image statistics is able to account for a wide range of both contrast and assimilation effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number368
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2015

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Assimilation
  • Contrast
  • Exponential
  • Filter
  • Illusion
  • Lightness
  • Model
  • ODOG


Dive into the research topics of 'An exponential filter model predicts lightness illusions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this