Light and Eyeballs

82 Center-Surround Antagonism in Receptive Fields

Learning Objectives

Know what the center-surround receptive field is.

Be able to describe the differences between an ON-center and OFF-center receptive field.

Know what types of retinal cells have the center-surround receptive fields.

A visual receptive field is defined as the region of visual space in which a change in lightness or color will cause a change in the neuron’s firing rate. Almost all receptive fields have structure—different changes in different parts of the receptive field will have different effects on the neuron’s response. A key function of this receptive field structure is that neurons only respond to edges. When center and surround are balanced, the RGC (retinal ganglion cell) will not change its firing rate in response to uniform illumination.



Fig.8.10.1. Visual Receptive Fields. In this figure, we can see that retinal ganglion cells have the center-surround receptive fields and that they respond to light differently on the center only, surround only, both center and surround, or on neither center nor surround.  (Provided by: Wikimedia Commons, License: CC-BY-4.0)

Most neurons in the retina and thalamus have small receptive fields that have a very basic organization, which resembles two concentric circles. This concentric receptive field structure is usually known as center-surround organization. On-center retinal ganglion cells respond to light spots surrounded by dark backgrounds like a star in a dark sky. Off-center retinal ganglion cells respond to dark spots surrounded by light backgrounds like a fly in a bright sky.

Here are some examples:

In this scenario: walking into a dark room with a candle, your on-center receptive field responds. The candle’s light activates the center of the receptive field, enhancing its perception against the dark background.

In this scenario: Walking into a bright room with a dark chair under a lamp. Here, your off-center receptive field responds. The dark chair against the bright background activates the center of the receptive field, emphasizing the contrast and making the chair stand out.


Cheryl Olman PSY 3031 Detailed Outline
Provided by: University of Minnesota
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License of original source: CC Attribution 4.0Scholarpedia, “Receptive field” by Dr. Jose-Manuel Alonso & Dr. Yao Chen, SUNY State College of Optometry
License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


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Introduction to Sensation and Perception Copyright © 2022 by Students of PSY 3031 and Edited by Dr. Cheryl Olman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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