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Traditionally, the perceived size of negative afterimages has been examined in relation to E. Emmert's law (1881), a size-distance equation that states that changes in perceived size of an afterimage are a function of the distance of the surface on which it is projected. Here, we present evidence that the size of an afterimage is also modulated by its surrounding context. We employed a new version of the Ebbinghaus-Titchener illusion with flickering surrounding stimuli and a static inner target that generated a vivid afterimage of the latter but not the former. Observers were asked to give an initial manual estimate of the size of the inner target during the adaptation phase followed by another manual estimate of the size of the afterimage during the test phase. Manual estimates were affected by the size-contrast illusion both when the surrounding contextual elements were present during afterimage induction and when the surrounding elements were absent during the viewing of the afterimage (Experiment 1). Such a modulation in perceived size, however, did not occur when observers viewed only the flickering surrounding context for a prolonged period of time and then estimated the size of a static target presented on the monitor afterward, demonstrating that flickering stimuli by themselves did not produce any aftereffect on perceived size (Experiment 2). Furthermore, in a final experiment, we showed that the modulation observed in the test phase of Experiment 1 was not due to memory of the manual estimates that had been performed during the adaptation phase (Experiment 3). These findings provide clear evidence for the role of high-level cognitive processes on the perceived size of an afterimage beyond the retinal level. Thus, although retinal stimulation is required to induce an afterimage, post-retinal factors influence its perceived size.

Original publication




Journal article


J Vis

Publication Date





Adolescent, Adult, Afterimage, Contrast Sensitivity, Female, Follow-Up Studies, Humans, Illusions, Male, Photic Stimulation, Size Perception, Young Adult