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Dr. Matteo Toscani  University of Giessen 

Otto-Behaghel-Strasse 10F, 35394 Giessen 
Building F1, Room 307
Phone: +49(0)641 / 99-26110 







Journal Articles:

Categorizing natural color distributions. Milojevic Z., Ennis R., Toscani M., Gegenfurtner K.R. (2018).  Vision Research . The natural objects that we are surrounded with virtually always contain many different shades of color, yet thevisual system usually categorizes them into a single color category. We examined various image statistics andtheir role in categorizing the color of leaves. Our subjects categorized photographs of autumn leaves and versionsthat were manipulated, including: randomly repositioned pixels, leaves uniformly colored with their mean color,leaves that were made by reflecting the original leaves' chromaticity distribution about their mean ("flipped leaves"), and simple patches colored with the mean colors of the original leaves. We trained a linear classifier with a set of image statistics in order to predict the category that each object was assigned to. Our results showthat the mean hue of an object is highly predictive of the natural object's color category (> 90% accuracy) and observers' choices are consistent with their use of unique yellow as a decision boundary for classification. The flipped leaves produced consistent changes in color categorization that are possibly explained by an interaction between the color distributions and the texture of the leaves.

Hyperspectral database of fruits and vegetables. Ennis R., Schiller F., Toscani M., Gegenfurtner K.R. (2018).  JOSA. We have built a hyperspectral database of 42 fruits and vegetables. Both the outside (skin) and inside of the objects were imaged. We used a Specim VNIR HS-CL-30-V8E-OEM mirror-scanning hyperspectral camera and took pictures at a spatial resolution of ~57px/deg by 800 pixels at a wavelength resolution of ~1.12nm. A stable, broadband illuminant was used. Images and software are freely available on our webserver (; pronounced "gift"). We performed two kinds of analyses on these images. First, when comparing the insides and outsides of the objects, we observed that the insides were lighter than the skins, and that the hues of the insides and skins were significantly correlated (circular correlation=0.638). Second, we compared the color distribution within each object to corresponding human color discrimination thresholds. We found a significant correlation (0.75) between the orientation of ellipses fit to the chromaticity distributions of our fruits and vegetables with the orientations of interpolated MacAdam discrimination ellipses. This indicates a close relationship between sensory processing and the characteristics of environmental objects.

Foveal to peripheral extrapolation of brightness within objects. Toscani M., Gegenfurtner K.R., Valsecchi M. (2017).  Journal of Vision . Peripheral viewing is characterized by poor resolution and distortions as compared to central viewing; nevertheless, when we move our gaze around, the visual scene does not appear to change. One possible mechanism leading to perceptual uniformity would be that peripheral appearance is extrapolated based on foveal information. Here we investigate foveal-to-peripheral extrapolation in the case of the perceived brightness of an object's surface. While fixating a spot on the rendered object, observers were asked to adjust the brightness of a disc to match a peripherally viewed target area on the surface of the same object. Being forced to fixate a better illuminated point led to brighter matches as compared to fixating points in the shadow, indicating that foveal brightness information was extrapolated. When observers fixated additional points outside of the object on the scene's background, fixated brightness had no effect on the brightness match. Results indicate that our visual system uses the brightness of the foveally viewed surface area to estimate the brightness of areas in the periphery. However, this mechanism is selectively applied within an object's boundary.

Seeing lightness in the dark. Ennis R., Toscani M., Gegenfurtner, K.R. (2017).  Current Biology . From intense sunlight in bright snow down to a moonless night in a dark forest, we can use light to recognize objects and guide our actions. This remarkable range mainly rests on having two different types of photoreceptors, the rods and the cones. The cones are active under daylight conditions, allowing high acuity and color vision. Rods are mainly active under very dim illumination conditions and have an exquisite sensitivity to light. There are obvious detriments to visual perception in near darkness, such as a central scotoma, reduced motion perception, and most of all a lack of color. There is only one type of rod, and thus intensity and wavelength differences cannot be disentangled when only the rods are active. This is captured well by the old saying "at night all cats are gray", meaning that different colors inevitably get mapped onto different shades of gray. Here we show that the perception of lightness is also different for night vision: our results indicate that surfaces that appear to be white under daylight conditions, at best, appear medium gray under night vision, suggesting that activation of the cones is necessary for the perception of white.

Differences in illumination estimation in# thedress. Toscani M., Gegenfurtner K.R., Doerschner K. (2017).  Journal of Vision . We investigated whether people who report different colors for #thedress do so because they have different assumptions about the illumination in #thedress scene. We introduced a spherical illumination probe (Koenderink, Pont, van Doorn, Kappers, & Todd, 2007) into the original photograph, placed in fore-, or background of the scene and -for each location- let observers manipulate the probe's chromaticity, intensity and the direction of the illumination. Their task was to adjust the probe such that it would appear as a white sphere in the scene. When the probe was located in the foreground, observers who reported the dress to be white (white perceivers) tended to produce bluer adjustments than observers who reported it as blue (blue perceivers). Blue perceivers tended to perceive the illumination as less chromatic. There were no differences in chromaticity settings between perceiver types for the probe placed in the background. Perceiver types also did not differ in their illumination intensity and direction estimates across probe locations. These results provide direct support for the idea that the ambiguity in the perceived color of the dress can be explained by the different assumptions that people have about the illumination chromaticity in the foreground of the scene. In a second experiment we explore the possibility that blue perceivers might overall be less sensitive to contextual cues, and measure white and blue perceivers' dress color matches and labels for manipulated versions of the original photo. Results indeed confirm that contextual cues predominantly affect white perceivers.

Lightness perception for matte and glossy complex shapes. Toscani M., Valsecchi M., Gegenfurtner K.R. (2017).  Vision Research . Humans are able to estimate the reflective properties of the surface (albedo) of an object despite the large variability in the reflected light due to shading, illumination and specular reflection. Here we first used a physically based rendering simulation to study how different statistics (i.e, percentiles) based on the luminance distributions of matte and glossy objects predict the overall surface albedo. We found that the brightest parts of matte surfaces are good predictors of the surface albedo. As expected, the brightest parts led to poor performance in glossy surfaces. We then asked human observers to sort four (2 matte and 2 glossy) objects in a virtual scene in terms of their albedo. The brightest parts of matte surfaces highly correlated with human judgments, whereas in glossy surfaces, the highest correlation was achieved by percentiles within the darker half of the objects' luminance distributions. Furthermore, glossy surfaces tend to appear darker than matte ones, and observers are less precise in judging their lightness. We then manipulated different bands of the virtual objects' luminance distributions separately for glossy and matte surfaces. Modulating the brightest parts of the luminance distributions of the glossy surfaces had a limited impact on lightness perception, whereas it clearly influenced the perceived lightness of the matte objects. Our results demonstrate that human observers effectively ignore specular reflections while evaluating the lightness of glossy objects, which results in a bias to perceive glossy objects as darker.

Lightness perception for surfaces moving through different illumination levels. Toscani M.,  Zdravković, S., Gegenfurtner, K.R (2016) Journal of Vision. Lightness perception has mainly been studied with static scenes so far. This study presents four experiments investigating lightness perception under dynamic illumination conditions. We asked participants for lightness matches of a virtual three-dimensional target moving through a light field while their eye movements were recorded. We found that the target appeared differently, depending on the direction of motion in the light field and its precise position in the light field. Lightness was also strongly affected by the choice of fixation positions with the spatiotemporal image sequence. Overall, lightness constancy was improved when observers could freely view the object, over when they were forced to fixate certain regions. Our results show that dynamic scenes and nonuniform light fields are particularly challenging for our visual system. Eye movements in such scenarios are chosen to improve lightness constancy.

The many colours of "the dress". Gegenfurtner, K. R., Bloj, M., & Toscani, M. (2015). Current Biology. There has been an intense discussion among the public about the colour of a dress, shown in a picture posted originally on Tumblr (; accessed on 10:56 am GMT on Tue 24 Mar 2015). Some people argue that they see a white dress with golden lace, while others describe the dress as blue with black lace. Here we show that the question "what colour is the dress?" has more than two answers. In fact, there is a continuum of colour percepts across different observers. We measured colour matches on a calibrated screen for two groups of observers who had reported different percepts of the dress. Surprisingly, differences between the two groups arose mainly from differences in lightness, rather than chromaticity of the colours they adjusted to match the dress. We speculate that the ambiguity arises in the case of this particular image because the distribution of colours within the dress closely matches the distribution of natural daylights. This makes it more difficult to disambiguate illumination changes from those in reflectance.

Statistical correlates of perceived gloss in natural images. Wiebel, C. B., Toscani, M., & Gegenfurtner, K. R. (2015). Vision research. It is currently debated whether the perception of gloss is linked to the statistical parameters of the retinal image. In particular, it has been suggested that gloss is highly correlated with the skewness of the luminance histogram. However, other psychophysical work with artificial stimuli has shown that skewness alone is not enough to induce the perception of gloss. Here, we analyzed many images of natural surfaces to search for potential statistical correlates of perceived gloss. We found that skewness indeed correlates with gloss when using rendered stimuli, but that the standard deviation, a measure of contrast, correlates better with perceived gloss when using photographs of natural surfaces. We verified the important role of contrast by manipulating skewness and contrast within images. Changing the contrast in images significantly modulates perceived gloss, but manipulating the skewness of the luminance histogram had only a small effect.

Perceived numerosity is reduced in peripheral vision. Valsecchi M, Toscani M,  Gegenfurtner KR. 2013. Journal of vision. In four experiments we investigated the perception of numerosity in the peripheral visual field. We found that the perceived numerosity of a peripheral cloud of dots was judged to be inferior to the one of a central cloud of dots, particularly when the dots were highly clustered. Blurring the stimuli accordingly to peripheral spatial frequency sensitivity did not abolish the effect and had little impact on numerosity judgments. In a dedicated control experiment we ruled out that the reduction in peripheral perceived numerosity is secondary to a reduction of perceived stimulus size. We suggest that visual crowding might be at the origin of the observed reduction in p.eripheral perceived numerosity, implying that numerosity could be partly estimated through the individuation of the elements populating the array.

Selection of visual information for lightness judgments by eye movements. Toscani M, Valsecchi M, Gegenfurtner KR. 2013b. Phil Trans R Soc B. When judging the lightness of objects, the visual system has to take into account many factors such as shading, scene geometry, occlusions or transparency. The problem then is to estimate global lightness based on a number of local samples that differ in luminance. Here we show that eye fixations play a prominent role in this selection process. We explored a special case of transparency for which the visual system separates surface reflectance from interfering conditions to generate a layered image representation. Eye movements were recorded while the observers matched the lightness of the layered stimulus. We found that observers did focus their fixations on the target layer, and this sampling strategy affected their lightness perception. The effect of image segmentation on perceived lightness was highly correlated with the fixation strategy and was strongly affected when we manipulated it using a gaze contingent display. Finally, we disrupted the segmentation process showing that it causally drives the selection strategy. Selection through eye fixations can such serve as a simple heuristic to estimate the target reflectance.

Optimal sampling of visual information for lightness judgments. Valsecchi M, Toscani M,  Gegenfurtner KR. 2013a  PNAS 2013. The variable resolution and limited processing capacity of the human visual system requires us to sample the world with eye movements and attentive processes. Here we show that where observers look can strongly modulate their reports of simple surface attributes, such as lightness. When observers matched the color of natural objects they based their judgments on the brightest parts of the objects; at the same time, they tended to fixate points with above-average luminance. When we forced participants to fixate a specific point on the object using a gaze-contingent display setup, the matched lightness was higher when observers fixated bright regions. This finding indicates a causal link between the luminance of the fixated region and the lightness match for the whole object. Simulations with rendered physical lighting show that higher values in an object's luminance distribution are particularly informative about reflectance. This sampling strategy is an efficient and simple heuristic for the visual system to achieve accurate and invariant judgments of lightness.

Role of eye movements in chromatic induction. Granzier JJG, Toscani M, and Gegenfurtner KR. 2012. JOSA 2012. There exist large interindividual differences in the amount of chromatic induction [Vis. Res. 49, 2261 (2009)]. One possible reason for these differences between subjects could be differences in subjects' eye movements. In experiment 1, subjects either had to look exclusively at the background or at the adjustable disk while they set the disk to a neutral gray as their eye position was being recorded. We found a significant difference in the amount of induction between the two viewing conditions. In a second experiment, subjects were freely looking at the display. We found no correlation between subjects' eye movements and the amount of induction. We conclude that eye movements only play a role under artificial (forced looking) viewing conditions and that eye movements do not seem to play a large role for chromatic induction under natural viewing conditions.

Fearful expressions enhance recognition memory: Electrophysiological evidence. Righi S, Marzi T, Toscani M, Baldassi S, Ottonello S, Viggiano MP. 2012. Acta Psychologica. Facial expressions play a key role in affective and social behavior. However, the temporal dynamics of the brain responses to emotional faces remain still unclear, in particular an open question is at what stage of face processing expressions might influence encoding and recognition memory. To try and answer this question we recorded the event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited in an old/new recognition task. A novel aspect of the present design was that whereas faces were presented during the study phase with either a happy, fearful or neutral expression, they were always neutral during the memory retrieval task. The ERP results showed three main findings: An enhanced early fronto-central positivity for faces encoded as fearful, both during the study and the retrieval phase. During encoding subsequent memory (Dm effect) was influenced by emotion. At retrieval the early components P100 and N170 were modulated by the emotional expression of the face at the encoding phase. Finally, the later ERP components related to recognition memory were modulated by the previously encoded facial expressions. Overall, these results suggest that face recognition is modulated by top-down influences from brain areas associated with emotional memory, enhancing encoding and retrieval in particular for fearful emotional expressions.

Alpha waves: a neural signature of visual suppression. Toscani M, Marzi T, Righi S, Viggiano MP, Baldassi S. 2010.  Exp Brain Research. Alpha waves are traditionally considered a passive consequence of the lack of stimulation of sensory areas. However, recent results have challenged this view by showing a modulation of alpha activity in cortical areas representing unattended information during active tasks. These data have led us to think that alpha waves would support a 'gating function' on sensorial stimulation that actively inhibits unattended information in attentional tasks. Visual suppression occurring during a saccade and blink entails an inhibition of incoming visual information, and it seems to occur at an early processing stage. In this study, we hypothesized that the neural mechanism through which the visual system exerts this inhibition is the active imposition of alpha oscillations in the occipital cortex, which in turn predicts an increment of alpha amplitude during a visual suppression phenomena. We measured visual suppression occurring during short closures of the eyelids, a situation well suited for EEG recordings and stimulated the retinae with an intra-oral light administered through the palate. In the behavioral experiment, detection thresholds were measured with eyes steady open and steady closed, showing a reduction of sensitivity in the latter case. In the EEG recordings performed under identical conditions we found stronger alpha activity with closed eyes. Since the stimulation does not depend on whether the eyes were open or closed, we reasoned that this should be a central effect, probably due to a functional role of alpha oscillation in agreement with the 'gating function' theory.

Conference Articles:

Effect of fixation positions on perception of lightness. Toscani M, Valsecchi M, Gegenfurtner KR. 2015. In IS&T/SPIE Electronic Imaging (pp. 93940R-93940R). International Society for Optics and Photonics. Visual acuity, luminance sensitivity, contrast sensitivity, and color sensitivity are maximal in the fovea and decrease with retinal eccentricity. Therefore every scene is perceived by integrating the small, high resolution samples collected by moving the eyes around. Moreover, when viewing ambiguous figures the fixated position influences the dominance of the possible percepts. Therefore fixations could serve as a selection mechanism whose function is not confined to finely resolve the selected detail of the scene. Here this hypothesis is tested in the lightness perception domain. In a first series of experiments we demonstrated that when observers matched the color of natural objects they based their lightness judgments on objects' brightest parts. During this task the observers tended to fixate points with above average luminance, suggesting a relationship between perception and fixations that we causally proved using a gaze contingent display in a subsequent experiment. Simulations with rendered physical lighting show that higher values in an object's luminance distribution are particularly informative about reflectance. In a second series of experiments we considered a high level strategy that the visual system uses to segment the visual scene in a layered representation. We demonstrated that eye movement sampling mediates between the layer segregation and its effects on lightness perception. Together these studies show that eye fixations are partially responsible for the selection of information from a scene that allows the visual system to estimate the reflectance of a surface.

The Optimal Estimator of Objects' Lightness Predicting Perceptions. Toscani M, Valsecchi M, Gegenfurtner KR. 2012. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Appearance. We have recently shown that eye movements have an effect on lightness estimation of real objects. Observers tended to fixate points with above-average luminance and they overestimated the objects' lightness. The matched lightness was higher when  observers were forced to fixate a bright region of the object than when they fixated a darker region. In the present work we performed a simulation with a physically based rendering system, showing that this is an efficient and simple heuristic for the visual system to arrive at accurate and invariant  judgments of  lightness.

Contributions in conferences:








Research experience
and education

2013-now. Postdoctoral Researcher. University of Giessen.
2013 - Phd (Doctor Rerum Naturalium). University of Giessen with Karl Gegenfurtner
2010 - European Visual Neuroscience Summer School  "From Spikes to Awareness".
2009- M.Sc Experimental Psychology. University of Florence, Italy. 
With Stefano Baldassi












Research interests:

Visual Neuroscience Summer School

Karl Gegenfurtner

Stefano Baldassi

University of Florence