Fourier-phase information is important in determining the appearance of natural scenes, but the structure of natural-image phase spectra is highly complex and difficult to relate directly to human perceptual processes. This problem is addressed by extending previous investigations of human visual sensitivity to the randomisation and quantisation of Fourier phase in natural images. The salience of the image changes induced by these physical processes is shown to depend critically on the nature of the original phase spectrum of each image, and the processes of randomisation and quantisation are shown to be perceptually equivalent provided that they shift image phase components by the same average amount. These results are explained by assuming that the visual system is sensitive to those phase-domain image changes which also alter certain global higher-order image statistics. This assumption may be used to place constraints on the likely nature of cortical processing: mechanisms which correlate the outputs of a bank of relative-phase-sensitive units are found to be consistent with the patterns of sensitivity reported here.