Measuring temporal summation in visual detection with a single-photon source

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Abstract

Temporal summation is an important feature of the visual system which combines visual signals that arrive at different times. Previous research estimated complete summation to last for 100 ms for stimuli judged “just detectable.” We measured the full range of temporal summation for much weaker stimuli using a new paradigm and a novel light source, developed in the field of quantum optics for generating small numbers of photons with precise timing characteristics and reduced variance in photon number. Dark-adapted participants judged whether a light was presented to the left or right of their fixation in each trial. In Experiment 1, stimuli contained a stream of photons delivered at a constant rate while the duration was systematically varied. Accuracy should increase with duration as long as the later photons can be integrated with the proceeding ones into a single signal. The temporal integration window was estimated as the point that performance no longer improved, and was found to be 650 ms on average. In Experiment 2, the duration of the visual stimuli was kept short (100 ms or <30 ms) while the number of photons was varied to explore the efficiency of summation over the integration window compared to Experiment 1. There was some indication that temporal summation remains efficient over the integration window, although there is variation between individuals. The relatively long integration window measured in this study may be relevant to studies of the absolute visual threshold, i.e., tests of single-photon vision, where “single” photons should be separated by greater than the integration window to avoid summation.

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