We have measured the overall statistical efficiency of human subjects discriminating the amplitude of visual pattern signals added to noisy backgrounds. By changing the noise amplitude, the amount of intrinsic noise can be estimated and allowed for. For a target containing a few cycles of a spatial sinusoid of about 5 cycles per degree, the overall statistical efficiency is as high as 0.7 +/- 0.07, and after correction for intrinsic noise, efficiency reaches 0.83 +/- 0.15. Such a high figure leaves little room for residual inefficiencies in the neural mechanisms that handle these patterns.

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