Humans are more sensitive to luminance decrements than increments, as evidenced by lower thresholds and shorter latencies for dark stimuli. This asymmetry is consistent with results of neurophysiological recordings in dorsal lateral-geniculate nucleus (dLGN) and primary visual cortex (V1) of cat and monkey. Specifically, V1 population responses demonstrate that darks elicit higher levels of activation than brights, and the latency of OFF responses in dLGN and V1 is shorter than that of ON responses. The removal of a dark or bright disc often generates the perception of a negative afterimage, and here we ask whether there also exist asymmetries for negative afterimages elicited by dark and bright discs. If so, do the post-stimulus responses of subcortical ON and OFF cells parallel such afterimage asymmetries? To test these hypotheses, we performed psychophysical experiments in humans and single-cell/s-potential recordings in cat dLGN. Psychophysically, we found that bright afterimages elicited by luminance decrements are stronger and last longer than dark afterimages elicited by luminance increments of equal sizes. Neurophysiologically, we found that ON cells responded to the removal of a dark disc with higher firing rates that were maintained for longer than OFF cells to the removal of a bright disc. The ON and OFF cell asymmetry was most pronounced at long stimulus durations in the dLGN. We conclude that subcortical response strength differences between ON and OFF channels parallel the asymmetries between bright and dark negative afterimages, further supporting a subcortical origin of bright and dark afterimage perception.
Afterimages are physiological aftereffects following stimulation of the eye, the study of which helps us to understand how our visual brain generates visual perception in the absence of physical stimuli. We report, for the first time to our knowledge, asymmetries between bright and dark negative afterimages elicited by luminance decrements and increments, respectively. Bright afterimages are stronger and last longer than dark afterimages. Subcortical neuronal recordings of post-stimulus responses of ON and OFF cells reveal similar asymmetries with respect to response strength and duration. Our results suggest that subcortical differences between ON and OFF channels help explain intensity and duration asymmetries between bright and dark afterimages, supporting the notion of a subcortical origin of bright and dark afterimages.
↵§ On leave of absence from the Department of Neurology, University of Freiburg (Germany)
Conflict of interest: None
We thank Profs Peter Schiller, James Thomas, Jose Manuel Alonso, Qasim Zaidi, and John S. Werner for valuable advice, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful suggestions. National Natural Science Foundation of China with grant number 31571078.