Attention Reduces Perceived Brightness Contrast

Yehoshua Tsal, Lilach Shalev, Dan Zakay, R. E. Lubow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects of attention on brightness perception was investigated in four experiments. In the first three, subjects estimated the brightness of a briefly presented small grey square by selecting a number that corresponded to one of four possible squares varying on a lightness-darkness dimension. In the last experiment, subjects matched the brightness of two peripheral squares, one attended and one unattended. When the stimulus appeared on a white background (Experiments 1, 2, and 4a) it was judged as brighter when attention was directed to its location than when attention was diverted to another location. When the stimulus appeared on a dark background (Experiments 3 and 4b), the opposite pattern of results was obtained: the attended stimulus was judged as darker than the unattended one. These results show that attention reduces the perceived contrast between the stimulus and its background, suggesting that attention enables subjects to provide a more veridical judgement of stimulus brightness by limiting processing resources to the square itself, at the expense of the surrounding background. As attention produced a directional brightness effect rather than just an improvement in report accuracy, the results can be attributed to early perceptual processing effects, hence providing support for early selection views of attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)865-893
Number of pages29
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A: Human Experimental Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 1994
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Requests for reprints yhould be sent to Yehoshua Tsal. Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, 69978, Israel; e-mail: This research was supported by Grant No. 06 10710551 to YT from the Israel Academy of Sciences.


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