Human perception of visual stimuli modulated by direction of linear polarization

Gary P Misson, Brenda H Timmerman, Peter J Bryanston-Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explores both theoretically and experimentally the human perception of polarized light beyond that currently established. The radial analyser theory of Haidinger's phenomenon (HP) is used to predict the effect of observing visual stimuli comprising patterned zones characterized by orthogonal planes of linear polarization (linear polarization direction fields, LPD-fields). Any pattern can be represented as an LPD-field including optotypes and geometric forms. Simulated percepts differ from the original patterns although edges are mostly preserved. In edge-rich images a cross of attenuating contrast spanning the field of view is predicted. The mathematical model is verified experimentally using a liquid crystal display (LCD)-based polarization modulator imaged through a tangential (azimuthal) analyser with properties complementary to a radial analyser. The LCD device is then used in vivo to elicit perceptual responses in human subjects. Normal humans are found to readily detect spatially and temporally modulated isoluminant spatially-isochromatic, highly polarized LPD stimuli. Most subjects match the stimuli to corresponding images of theoretically predicted percepts. In particular edge perception and the presence of the contrast cross was confirmed. Unlike HP, static patterned LPD stimuli are perceived without difficulty. The simplest manifestation of human polarization perception is HP which is the fundamental element of an open set of stimulus-dependent percepts. This study demonstrates that humans have the ability to perceive and identify visual pattern stimuli defined solely by polarization state modulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-57
Number of pages10
JournalVision Research
Issue numberPt A
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual/physiology
  • Photic Stimulation/methods
  • Young Adult


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