Mach bands is an optical illusion named after the physicist Ernst Mach. It exaggerates the contrast between edges of the slightly differing shades of gray, as soon as they contact one another, by triggering edge-detection in the human visual system.
The Mach bands effect is due to the spatial high-boost filtering performed by the human visual system on the luminance channel of the image captured by the retina. This filtering is largely performed in the retina itself, by lateral inhibition among its neurons.
The effect is independent of the orientation of the boundary.
This visual phenomenon is important to keep in mind when evaluating dental radiographs for evidence of decay, in which grayscale images of teeth and bone are analyzed for abnormal variances of intensity. A false-positive radiological diagnosis of dental caries can easily arise if the practitioner does not take into account the likelihood of this illusion. Mach bands manifest adjacent to metal restorations or appliances and the boundary between enamel and dentin. Mach bands may also result in the misdiagnosis of horizontal root fractures because of the differing radiographic intensities of tooth and bone. Mach effect can also lead to an erroneous diagnosis of pneumothorax by creating a dark line at the lung periphery (whereas a true pneumothorax will have a white pleural line).
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- Eagleman, DM (2001) "Visual Illusions and Neurobiology." Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2(12): 920-6.