Rethinking colour constancy

Alexander D. Logvinenko, Brian Funt*, Hamidreza Mirzaei, Rumi Tokunaga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
64 Downloads (Pure)


Colour constancy needs to be reconsidered in light of the limits imposed by metamer mismatching. Metamer mismatching refers to the fact that two objects reflecting metameric light under one illumination may reflect non-metameric light under a second; so two objects appearing as having the same colour under one illuminant can appear as having different colours under a second. Yet since Helmholtz, object colour has generally been believed to remain relatively constant. The deviations from colour constancy registered in experiments are usually thought to be small enough that they do not contradict the notion of colour constancy. However, it is important to determine how the deviations from colour constancy relate to the limits metamer mismatching imposes on constancy. Hence, we calculated metamer mismatching’s effect for the 20 Munsell papers and 8 pairs of illuminants employed in the colour constancy study by Logvinenko and Tokunaga and found it to be so extensive that the two notions—metamer mismatching and colour constancy—must be mutually exclusive. In particular, the notion of colour constancy leads to some paradoxical phenomena such as the possibility of 20 objects having the same colour under chromatic light dispersing into a hue circle of colours under neutral light. Thus, colour constancy refers to a phenomenon, which because of metamer mismatching, simply cannot exist. Moreover, it obscures the really important visual phenomenon; namely, the alteration of object colours induced by illumination change. We show that colour is not an independent, intrinsic attribute of an object, but rather an attribute of an object/light pair, and then define a concept of material colour in terms of equivalence classes of such object/light pairs. We suggest that studying the shift in material colour under a change in illuminant will be more fruitful than pursuing colour constancy’s false premise that colour is an intrinsic attribute of an object.
Original languageEnglish
Article number135029
Number of pages29
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2015


  • metameter mismatching
  • colour constancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics


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