The perceived difference in brightness between elements of a patterned target is diminished when the target is embedded in a similar surround of higher luminance contrast (the Chubb illusion). Here we show that this puzzling effect can be explained by the degree to which imperfect transmittance is likely to have affected the light that reaches the eye. These observations indicate that this ‘illusion’ is yet another signature of the fundamentally empirical strategy of visual perception, in this case generated by the typical influence of transmittance on inherently ambiguous stimuli.

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