Sergei Gepshtein, Luis A. Lesmes, and Thomas D. Albright


Visual adaptation is expected to improve visual performance in the new environment. This expectation has been contradicted by evidence that adaptation sometimes decreases sensitivity for the adapting stimuli, and sometimes it changes sensitivity for stimuli very different from the adapting ones. We hypothesize that this pattern of results can be explained by a process that optimizes sensitivity for many stimuli, rather than changing sensitivity only for those stimuli whose statistics have changed. To test this hypothesis, we measured visual sensitivity across a broad range of spatiotemporal modulations of luminance, while varying the distribution of stimulus speeds. The manipulation of stimulus statistics caused a large-scale reorganization of visual sensitivity, forming the orderly pattern of sensitivity gains and losses. This pattern is predicted by a theory of distribution of receptive field characteristics in the visual system.