Polarization perception in humans: on the origin of and relationship between Maxwell’s spot and Haidinger’s brushes

Gary P. Misson*, Shelby E. Temple, Stephen J. Anderson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Under specific conditions of illumination and polarization, differential absorption of light by macular pigments is perceived as the entoptic phenomena of Maxwell’s spot (MS) or Haidinger’s brushes (HB). To simulate MS and HB, an existing computational model of polarization-dependent properties of the human macula was extended by incorporating neuronal adaptation to stabilized retinal images. The model predicted that polarized light modifies the appearance of MS leading to the perception of a novel phenomenon. The model also predicted a correlation between the observed diameters of MS and HB. Predictions were tested psychophysically in human observers, whose measured differences in the diameters of each entoptic phenomenon generated with depolarized and linearly polarized light were consistent with the model simulations. These findings support a common origin of each phenomenon, and are relevant to the clinical use of polarization stimuli in detecting and monitoring human eye disorders, including macular degeneration. We conclude: (i) MS and HB both result from differential light absorption through a radial diattenuator, compatible with the arrangement of macular pigments in Henle fibres; (ii) the morphology of MS is dependent on the degree of linear polarization; (iii) perceptual differences between MS and HB result from different states of neural adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2020

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  • Computational biophysics
  • Retina


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