Mach bands

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Exaggerated contrast between edges of the slightly differing shades of gray, appears as soon as they touch
Along the boundary between adjacent shades of grey in the Mach bands illusion, lateral inhibition makes the darker area falsely appear even darker and the lighter area falsely appear even lighter.

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[citation needed].

The effect is independent of the orientation of the boundary.

In radiology[edit]

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[citation needed] and the boundary between enamel and dentin.[1] Mach bands may also result in the misdiagnosis of horizontal root fractures because of the differing radiographic intensities of tooth and bone.[2] 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).[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Devlin, Hugh. Operative Dentistry: A Practical Guide to Recent Innovations, Springer 2006 ISBN 978-3-540-29616-4 page 11
  2. ^ Nielsen, Christen J.; "Effect of Scenario and Experience on Interpretation of Mach Bands," Journal of endodontics Volume 27, Issue 11, Pages 687–691
  3. ^ Parker, M. S.; Chasen, M. H.; Paul, N. (2009). "Radiologic Signs in Thoracic Imaging: Case-Based Review and Self-Assessment Module". American Journal of Roentgenology. 192 (3_Supplement): S34. doi:10.2214/AJR.07.7081. 

Further reading[edit]

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