Unraveling the Complexity of Color Perception and Aging: A Pupillometry Study


Colors are neither stable nor uniform sensations, and the intricate interplay between biological, environmental, and psychological factors makes understanding color perception a challenging endeavor. While it is well-established that aging has an impact on color perception, the mechanisms behind these changes remain a subject of ongoing research. This article delves into the multifaceted world of color perception and aging, shedding light on recent developments in the field.

The Perception of Colorfulness and Aging A notable aspect of color perception that undergoes changes with age is the perception of colorfulness. Numerous behavioral studies have demonstrated that older adults tend to perceive colors as less saturated or less colorful than their younger counterparts. These findings suggest that there is a decline in color perception associated with aging, but the underlying neural mechanisms are not yet fully understood.

Visual Evoked Potentials (VEP) and Color Perception Recent research has attempted to uncover the neural basis of age-related changes in color perception. One study used Visual Evoked Potentials (VEP) to measure neural responses to luminance contrast and color contrast in older adults. Surprisingly, the study found that the visual cortex exhibited a uniform decline in VEP responses to both types of contrast.

However, another study combining VEP with behavioral measurements revealed that chromatic processing was significantly affected by age, while achromatic processing remained relatively intact. This suggests that age-related changes in color perception may primarily involve chromatic processing pathways.

TABLE 1 – Visual Evoked Potentials (VEP): A Comprehensive Guide for Medical Professionals

Visual Evoked Potentials (VEPs) are a valuable tool in the neuro-ophthalmological armamentarium, providing objective assessment of the visual pathway function by measuring the brain’s electrical activity in response to visual stimuli. This document delves deeper into the intricacies of VEPs, exploring their applications, technical aspects, interpretation, and clinical utility.

Physiological Basis: When light enters the eye, it triggers a cascade of electrical signals that travel along the optic nerve, optic chiasm, optic tract, and optic radiations to reach the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe. VEPs capture these electrical responses at various points along the pathway, offering insights into the integrity and functionality of each segment.

Clinical Applications: VEPs play a pivotal role in diagnosing and monitoring various neurological and ophthalmological conditions, including:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS): VEPs can detect demyelination in the optic nerve, a hallmark of MS, by revealing prolonged latencies and decreased amplitudes.
  • Optic Neuritis: VEPs are highly sensitive in diagnosing optic neuritis, showing characteristically delayed and attenuated responses.
  • Tumors: Tumors affecting the optic nerve, chiasm, or visual pathways can be visualized by the abnormal VEP findings, guiding further intervention.
  • Retinal Degeneration: VEPs can differentiate between different types of retinal degeneration by assessing the integrity of the pre-geniculate pathway.
  • Macular Degeneration: While not typically diagnostic for Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), VEPs can help evaluate macular function and monitor disease progression.
  • Stroke: VEP abnormalities can point towards visual pathway involvement in stroke, aiding diagnosis and rehabilitation planning.
  • Head Injury: VEPs can assess the extent of visual pathway damage following head trauma, guiding management decisions.

Technical Aspects:

  • Stimuli: Patterned stimuli like checkerboards, gratings, or flashing lights are commonly used, each targeting specific aspects of the visual pathway.
  • Recording: Electrodes placed on the scalp, typically near the occipital lobe, capture the brain’s electrical responses.
  • Analysis: The recorded waveforms are averaged and analyzed for latency (timing) and amplitude (strength) of specific peaks, reflecting the activity of different visual pathway segments.

Interpretation: VEP interpretation requires expertise and consideration of various factors:

  • Age-related norms: VEP values vary with age, making normative databases crucial for accurate interpretation.
  • Stimulus type: Different stimuli evoke distinct responses, demanding familiarity with their specific interpretations.
  • Interhemispheric asymmetry: Minor asymmetries may be normal, but significant discrepancies warrant further investigation.
  • Clinical context: Correlating VEP findings with the patient’s history, examination, and other investigations is essential for a comprehensive diagnosis.

Clinical Utility: VEPs offer several advantages:

  • Non-invasive and objective: They provide an objective measure of visual pathway function without discomfort or pain.
  • High sensitivity: They can detect subtle abnormalities missed by other tests, aiding early diagnosis.
  • Specificity: Different VEP patterns can help differentiate between various pathologies.
  • Monitoring disease progression: Serial VEPs can track the course of a disease and assess treatment response.

Limitations: It’s essential to acknowledge VEP limitations:

  • Not a standalone diagnostic tool: VEPs must be integrated with the clinical picture and other investigations for definitive diagnosis.
  • Normal VEP doesn’t rule out pathology: Some conditions may not manifest clear VEP abnormalities.
  • Technical factors can influence results: Recording and analysis procedures can impact results, requiring meticulous standardization.

VEPs are a valuable tool for neuro-ophthalmologists, offering insights into the functional integrity of the visual pathway. Understanding their technical aspects, interpretation nuances, and clinical utility empowers clinicians to diagnose and manage various neurological and ophthalmological conditions effectively. Remember, VEPs are just one piece of the diagnostic puzzle, and their interpretation should always be done in conjunction with the patient’s clinical presentation and other relevant investigations.

Color Discrimination and Age-Related Changes Color discrimination, the ability to distinguish between different colors, has also been shown to decline with age, but the exact locus of this decline remains debated. Some studies suggest that older adults have difficulty discriminating colors on the green-blue spectrum, possibly due to reduced retinal transmission of short wavelengths (blue light) caused by the aging of the crystalline lens. Interestingly, older adults tend to select green hues closer to the blue spectrum when asked to choose colors, a phenomenon attributed to cortical compensation mechanisms that aim to maintain color perception consistency across the lifespan.

In contrast, other studies propose that color discrimination declines evenly across the visible spectrum in older adults, possibly due to a global decline in photoreceptors and retinal ganglion cells. Pupillometry studies have also challenged the notion that older adults are less sensitive to blue light. Some findings indicate no significant difference in pupil responses to green or blue light in older adults when baseline pupil sizes are controlled for, suggesting that the crystalline lens yellowing may not selectively reduce pupil responses to blue light.

The Role of Pupillometry in Understanding Color Perception Pupillometry, the measurement of pupil responses to various stimuli, offers a promising avenue for investigating the effects of aging on color processing. Pupil responses are influenced by both bottom-up and top-down visual information, reflecting interactions between the retina, visual cortex, and higher cortical systems. The Pupillary Light Reflex, controlled by the Edinger-Westphal nucleus in the midbrain, responds to input from all retinal photoreceptors, including cones responsible for chromatic information. This suggests that pupil responses can provide insights into the neural processing of color information.

Color Components and Pupil Responses In this context, we propose that pupil responses to different color components, such as color lightness and chroma (colorfulness), can help unravel the impact of aging on color perception. Previous research has shown that pupil responses are sensitive to changes in wavelength purity, intensity, contrast, and duration of light stimuli. However, the specific effects of healthy aging on pupil responses to different color components remain unexplored.

Research Goals and Hypotheses To address this gap in knowledge, our study aimed to model the effects of color lightness and chroma on pupil responses in both young and older adults. We hypothesized that there would be a degree of independence between the effects of color lightness and chroma on pupil responses in both age groups. Furthermore, we predicted that pupil responses to increasing levels of chroma would be reduced in older adults, while responses to color lightness levels would remain unaffected after accounting for baseline pupil size differences.

Exploring Hues and Intensity Levels In addition to our primary hypotheses, we also investigated whether the intensity levels of specific hues played a role in driving pupillary responses to chroma. We analyzed the relative saturation levels of Green, Magenta, Yellow, and Blue within the CIELAB perceptual color space to gain further insights into the intricate relationship between hue, intensity, and pupillary responses.

Discussion : Aging and Color Perception: Insights from Pupillometry

In the intricate realm of color perception, the impact of aging has long been a topic of fascination and complexity. Recent research employing pupillometry has unveiled compelling insights into how the aging process affects our sensitivity to different facets of color, shedding new light on the intricate workings of the human visual system.

Understanding Color Perception and Aging

The relationship between color perception and aging has been a subject of scientific inquiry for decades. Our perception of color is a complex interplay of biological factors, environmental influences, and psychological dynamics. While it is widely recognized that aging can alter color perception, the precise mechanisms behind these changes have remained elusive.

The Pupillometry Study

A groundbreaking study in pupillometry, conducted with the aim of unraveling the mysteries of color perception in aging, has yielded remarkable findings. Pupillometry, the measurement of pupil responses to various stimuli, offers a unique window into the physiological changes associated with aging and color perception.

The Pupillary Light Reflex

The Pupillary Light Reflex, a fundamental physiological response that causes the pupils to constrict in response to light, is regulated by the Edinger-Westphal nucleus in the midbrain. This response involves input from all types of retinal photoreceptors, including rods responsible for achromatic information and cones responsible for both chromatic and achromatic information. This complex interplay between different types of photoreceptors underscores the intricate nature of color perception.

Key Findings of the Study

The pupillometry study revealed several significant findings related to the impact of aging on color perception:

  • Age-Related Decline in Chroma Sensitivity: Older adults exhibited weaker pupil constriction responses to increases in chroma, which refers to the colorfulness or saturation of colors. This decline in sensitivity to colorfulness suggests that colors may appear less vivid or vibrant as individuals age.
  • Selective Sensitivity to Green and Magenta: Notably, the decline in chroma sensitivity was particularly pronounced for colors with high levels of Green or Magenta saturation. These colors, described by the a* coordinates in the CIELAB color space, appeared less colorful to older adults.
  • Age-Independent Responses to Blue and Yellow: In contrast, pupil responses to increases in relative Blue or Yellow saturation, defined by the b* coordinates in the CIELAB color space, remained largely unaffected by healthy aging. This finding challenges the notion that older adults become less sensitive to blue light.

Implications and Mechanisms

These findings have important implications for our understanding of color perception in aging. It appears that color lightness and chroma processing may be regulated by distinct neural mechanisms. While the Pupillary Light Reflex circuitry in the mid-brain likely plays a significant role in responding to color lightness, the decline in chroma sensitivity with age may involve higher cortical areas within the visual pathway.

The Role of the Primary Visual Cortex

The primary visual cortex (V1) plays a pivotal role in color perception, responding to a wide range of colors and demonstrating sensitivity to variations in luminance and spatial signals. Although previous research had emphasized the significance of extrastriate areas such as V4 in color perception, recent studies have underscored the importance of V1 and V2 in human color perception, particularly in relation to color saturation.

The Helmholtz-Kohlrausch Effect

The Helmholtz-Kohlrausch effect, which describes the phenomenon of strongly saturated colors appearing brighter to the human visual system, offers insights into the relationship between color and pupil responses. Research has suggested that the anatomical basis for this effect is likely situated in V1. This phenomenon further highlights the critical role of V1 in the perception of colorfulness.

Implications for Neurodegenerative Diseases

The study’s findings have potential clinical implications for individuals with neurodegenerative diseases affecting the occipital cortex, such as posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). Such conditions can lead to diminished color perception abilities, and a thorough assessment of color discrimination and perceived colorfulness may be essential for designing interventions and environments tailored to the needs of these individuals.

Future Directions

While this study provides valuable insights into the dynamics of color perception and aging, further research is needed to fully elucidate the mechanisms involved. Investigating the neural correlates of color perception components, including hue, lightness, and chroma, will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of age-related changes in color perception.


The study’s pioneering use of pupillometry has deepened our understanding of how aging influences color perception. The findings suggest that our sensitivity to colorfulness diminishes with age, particularly in relation to Green and Magenta saturation levels. These insights have the potential to inform clinical assessments and interventions for individuals with neurodegenerative conditions affecting color perception, offering hope for improved quality of life and enhanced cognitive function in later years. As we continue to explore the intricate world of color perception, we unveil new layers of complexity that enrich our understanding of the human visual experience.

reference link : https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-48513-7


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Questo sito usa Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come i tuoi dati vengono elaborati.