This study evaluated the relative roles of physical and perceptual factors in flattening the contrast-detail (CD) curve on liver CT scans. To estimate the role of physical factors, the theoretical CD curve for a calculated theoretical observer (i.e., a nonprewhitening matched filter) was predicted using the measured noise power spectrum and measured modulation transfer function of the CT system. Another theoretical CD curve was also produced from the output of the same calculated observer after taking the human visual response function (VRF) into account. Perceptual factors were evaluated by analyzing human observers' replicated ratings of the visibility of details superimposed on liver CT scans. The CD curve for the calculated theoretical observer was below the CD curve actually measured for nine human observers and showed no flattening. With the VRF included, flattening of the theoretical CD curves was only produced by fixed image viewing distances of less than 30 cm, a reading style not employed by the human observers. Correlated ROC analysis of observers' replicated ratings indicated that while random, intraobserver variation was present, the magnitude of this so-called observer noise was insufficient to explain the flattening of CD curves. Use of narrow display windows did not eliminate this flattening effect. The main reason for human observers' inefficient detection of large, low contrast liver lesions appears to be a consistent misuse of the image information.