Human colour discrimination based on a non-parvocellular pathway



Troscianko T, Davidoff J, Humphreys GW, Landis T, Fahle M, Greenlee M, Brugger P & Phillips W (1996) Human colour discrimination based on a non-parvocellular pathway. Current Biology, 6 (2), pp. 200-210.

Background: Traditionally, colour information is assumed to be carried by neural channels in the parvocellular pathway and to be encoded in an opponent manner, while other, non-parvocellular, spectrally non-opponent channels are thought to play no part in colour vision. But is the parvocellular pathway the only way that colours can be discriminated in human vision? We studied two patients with cerebral achromatopsia, who lack conscious colour perception but are nevertheless able to make use of colour information. In particular, we investigated whether, in these patients, colour discrimination is mediated by the parvocellular pathway.  Results: The achromatopsic patients carried out a forced-choice colour- and luminance-discrimination task, and showed clear evidence of unconscious colour processing, consistent with previous studies. We added different types of luminance noise to see when this unconscious colour information could be masked. The results of the colour-discrimination-with-noise and the brightnessnon-additivity experiments showed a double-dissociation between patients. This indicates that, in one patient, unconscious colour discrimination may be subserved by a spectrally non-opponent mechanism, which does not have the characteristics of the parvocellular pathway and which is responsive to fast flicker. Spectral sensitivity, contrast sensitivity and motion perception experiments confirmed that this patient lacks a working opponent parvocellular system. The second achromatopsic patient showed evidence of a residual parvocellular system.  Conclusions: Our results show that chromatic discrimination need not be mediated by neural mechanisms, the parvocellular system in particular, normally assumed to subserve conscious colour perception. Such discrimination may be mediated by a neural subsystem which responds to fast flicker, is spectrally non-opponent, and supports normal motion perception.

Current Biology: Volume 6, Issue 2

Publication date29/02/1996
Publication date online10/05/2004
Date accepted by journal21/12/1995

People (1)


Professor Bill Phillips
Professor Bill Phillips

Emeritus Professor, Psychology