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Colour constancy for an unseen surface

Norman, L.J.; Akins, K.; Heywood, C.A.; Kentridge, R.W.

Colour constancy for an unseen surface Thumbnail


K. Akins

C.A. Heywood


The illumination of a scene strongly affects our perception of objects in that scene, e.g., the pages of a book illuminated by candlelight will appear quite yellow relative to other types of artificial illuminants. Yet at the same time, the reader still judges the pages as white, their surface color unaffected by the interplay of paper and illuminant. It has been shown empirically [ 1 ] that we can indeed report two quite different interpretations of “color”: one is dependent on the constant surface spectral reflectance of an object (surface color) and the other on the power of light of different wavelengths reflected from that object (reflected color). How then are these two representations related? The common view, dating from Aristotle, is that our experience of surface color is derived from reflected color or, in more familiar terms, that color perception follows from color sensation [ 2–4 ]. By definition, color constancy requires that vision “discounts the illuminant”; thus, it seems reasonable that vision begins with the color of objects as they naively appear and that we infer from their appearances their surface color. Here, we question this classic view. We use metacontrast-masked priming and, by presenting the unseen prime and the visible mask under different illuminants, dissociate two ways in which the prime matched the mask: in surface color or in reflected color. We find that priming of the mask occurs when it matches the prime in surface color, not reflected color. It follows that color perception can arise without prior color sensation.


Norman, L., Akins, K., Heywood, C., & Kentridge, R. (2014). Colour constancy for an unseen surface. Current Biology, 24(23), 2822-2826.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 6, 2014
Online Publication Date Nov 20, 2014
Publication Date Dec 1, 2014
Deposit Date Oct 18, 2014
Publicly Available Date Nov 4, 2014
Journal Current Biology
Print ISSN 0960-9822
Publisher Cell Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 23
Pages 2822-2826


Accepted Journal Article (1.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Current Biology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Current Biology, 24, 23, 1 December 2014, 10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.009.

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