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On the use of red stimuli to isolate magnocellular responses in psychophysical experiments: A perspective



Neurophysiological recordings have shown that activity of magnocellular neurons may be reduced by red backgrounds. This has led some researchers to use red light, or red filters, in attempts to determine the magnocellular contribution to psychophysical tasks. This requires that red light not affect parvocellular neurons, or at least that it is possible to control for the effect on the parvocellular system by using other colors. The present report investigates these assumptions by calculating the effect of red, green, and blue filters on the three cone pigments and on the four parvocellular color-opponent cell mechanisms. It is found that a red filter has a large effect on the long- and middle-wavelength cone pigments and on the red–green color-opponent mechanisms. A green filter, on the other hand, has little effect. A blue filter has a fairly pronounced effect but this effect is distinctly different from that of the red filter. These results indicate that one ought not rely upon red light to isolate magnocellular activity in psychological experiments. The results also indicate that it is difficult to use colors other than red to control for the effect of this color on the parvocellular system.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Bernt C. Skottun, Skottun Research, 273 Mather Street, Piedmont, CA 94611-5154, USA.


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