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Effects of Luminance, Contrast, and Blur on Visual Acuity

Optometry and Vision Science: December 1995
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Although previous investigations have reported that changes in background luminance, stimulus contrast, and dioptric blur can each affect visual acuity independently, it has not been shown how these three variables interact to influence visual acuity. This is a particularly important issue if one is interested in predicting how individuals with different refractive characteristics will be able to perform acuity-based tasks in degraded visual environments with low background lighting and contrast levels. To investigate these relations, we conducted a series of experiments in which measurements of visual acuity were obtained for four subjects using Landolt C targets of varying contrast at several background luminances for levels of blur between 0 and 8 diopters (D). Our results show that visual acuity is significantly affected by all three factors, and that their effects are essentially additive. At all luminance and contrast levels, the reduction in visual acuity is greatest for dioptric blur up to 2.0 D, with a more gradual reduction in visual acuity for dioptric blur of greater than 2.0 D. At all blur and luminance levels, visual acuity decreases gradually for contrast levels down to 20%, and decreases sharply for lower contrast levels. Over the range of background luminances we tested (75.0 to 0.075 cd/m2), visual acuity decreases linearly with reductions in luminance. The additive effects of dioptric blur, contrast, and luminance provide a basis for predicting visual acuity-related task performance for individuals in different visual environments. For example, an individual with 6/6 (20/20) visual acuity under high luminance- high contrast co/ditions will fall to 6/18 (20/60) acuity for low luminance conditions and 6/30 (20/100) for low luminance-low contrast conditions. Similarly, an individual with an uncorrected visual acuity of 6/30 (20/100) under optimal conditions will fall to approximately 6/120 (20/400) under low luminance conditions and 6/240 (20/800) under low luminance-low contrast conditions.

© 1995 American Academy of Optometry