Celeste McCollough

Celeste McCollough

Celeste McCollough, known since about 1996 as Celeste McCollough Howard is an American scientist who conducts research in human visual perception. She is famous for discovering, in 1965, the first contingent aftereffect, known soon after as the McCollough effect. To induce the McCollough effect, a person alternately views two gratings of different orientations (e.g., vertical and horizontal) that are also differently coloured (e.g, orange and blue respectively) for a few minutes. The effect is that black and white versions of the gratings appear to be tinted by complementary colours (i.e., blue and orange respectively). Apart from the colours' being contingent on the orientation of the gratings (distinguishing them from afterimages), they are also extremely long-lasting. About 10 minutes of induction can lead to the effect persisting for 24 hours (e.g., Jones & Holding, 1975).

The biography that follows is largely based on Howard (2000, December).

Early years

Celeste McCollough published her first paper from her dissertation research at Columbia University (McCollough, 1955). After teaching 1954-1956 at Olivet College, Olivet, Michigan, she became the first woman appointed to a full-time position in the Department of Psychology at Oberlin College. In 1962-63 during her first sabbatical leave, she conducted research in Canada into the perceptual effects of wearing spectacles tinted with two colours (McCollough, 1965b). This led to her discovering the effect that bears her name (McCollough, 1965a). Her paper sparked hundreds of other scientific papers.

Time out

In 1970 Celeste McCollough resigned her position at Oberlin and devoted her time to raising a daughter and son.

Return to research

In 1986, Celeste McCollough returned to vision research, under contract to University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI). She worked on the role of colour in flight simulation displays for the Air Force Human Resources Lab at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona (e.g., Howard, 1992; Howard, 1994; Howard, 1996). Her work on the dim light available from early color displays led her to participate in the Commission International de l'Eclairage (CIE) division on mesopic photometry (e.g., Howard, 1997). She also completed research on the relation between the McCollough effect and global pattern-processing (McCollough, 2000).

After 1995, she joined the Air Force laboratory's Night Vision Training Research Program under contracts held by private corporations. This research included studies of early mesopic adaptation to luminance decrements encountered in the cockpit while wearing night vision goggles (Howard, Tregear, & Werner, 2000). In November 2003, McCollough resigned from the Night Vision Training Research Program and moved to Portland Oregon to be near her children and grandchildren.


Howard, C. M. (2000, December). A vision for psychological science. American Psychological Society Observer, 13(10). Retrieved May 19, 2006, from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/private_sector/howard.html

Howard, C. M. (1992). Color control in digital displays. Chapter 17 in M. A. Karim, ed., Electro-optical Displays, Marcel Dekker, New York.

Howard, C. M. (1994). Colors in natural landscapes, with J. A. Burnidge. Journal of the Society for Information Display, vol. 2, no. 1, 47-55.

Howard, C. M. (1996). Managing color appearance in self-luminous displays. Proceedings of the SPIE: Human Vision & Electronic Imaging, vol. 2657, 2-9; reprinted in K. Braun & R. Eschbach, eds., Recent Progress in Color Science, 1997.

Howard, C. M., Tregear, S. J., Werner, J. S. (2000). Time course of early mesopic adaptation to luminance decrements and recovery of spatial resolution. Vision Research, 40, 3059-3064.

Jones, P. D., & Holding, D. H. (1975). Extremely long-term persistence of the McCollough effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 1, 323-327.

McCollough, C. (1955) The variation in width and position of Mach bands as a function of luminance. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 49, 141-152.

McCollough, C. (1965a). Color adaptation of edge-detectors in the human visual system. Science, 149, 1115-1116.

McCollough, C. (1965b). Conditioning of color perception. American Journal of Psychology, 78, 362-378.

McCollough C. (2000). Do McCollough effects provide evidence for global pattern processing? Perception & Psychophysics, 62, 350-362.

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