The extraction of the distance between an object and an observer is fast when angular declination is informative, as it is with targets placed on the ground. To what extent does angular declination drive performance when viewing time is limited? Participants judged target distances in a real-world environment with viewing durations ranging from 36–220 ms. An important role for angular declination was supported by experiments showing that the cue provides information about egocentric distance even on the very first glimpse, and that it supports a sensitive response to distance in the absence of other useful cues. Performance was better at 220 ms viewing durations than for briefer glimpses, suggesting that the perception of distance is dynamic even within the time frame of a typical eye fixation. Critically, performance in limited viewing trials was better when preceded by a 15 second preview of the room without a designated target. The results indicate that the perception of distance is powerfully shaped by memory from prior visual experience with the scene. A theoretical framework for the dynamic perception of distance is presented.
distance perception; angular declination; walking; time course; intrinsic bias
Research investigating how people remember the distance of paths they walk has shown two apparently conflicting effects of experience during encoding on subsequent distance judgments. By the feature accumulation effect discrete path features such as turns, houses or other landmarks cause an increase in remembered distance. By the distractor effect performance of a concurrent task during path encoding causes a decrease in remembered distance. This study asks: What are the conditions that determine whether the feature accumulation or the distractor effect dominates distortions of space? In two experiments, blindfolded participants were guided along two legs of a right triangle while reciting nonsense syllables. On some trials, one of the two legs contained features: horizontally mounted car antennas (gates) that bent out of the way as participants walked past. At the end of the second leg participants either indicated the remembered path leg lengths using their hands in a ratio estimation task, or attempted to walk, unguided, straight back to the beginning. In addition to response mode, visual access to the paths and time between encoding and response were manipulated to determine if these factors affected feature accumulation or distractor effects. Path legs with added features were remembered as shorter than those without, but this result was only significant in the haptic response mode data. This finding suggests that when people form spatial memory representations with the intention of navigating in room-scale spaces, interfering with information accumulation substantially distorts spatial memory.
Angular path integration refers to the ability to maintain an estimate of self-location after a rotational displacement by integrating internally-generated (idiothetic) self-motion signals over time. Previous work has found that non-sensory inputs, namely spatial memory, can play a powerful role in angular path integration (Arthur et al., 2007, 2009). Here we investigated the conditions under which spatial memory facilitates angular path integration. We hypothesized that the benefit of spatial memory is particularly likely in spatial updating tasks in which one’s self-location estimate is referenced to external space. To test this idea, we administered passive, nonvisual body rotations (ranging 40° – 140°) about the yaw axis and asked participants to use verbal reports or open-loop manual pointing to indicate the magnitude of the rotation. Prior to some trials, previews of the surrounding environment were given. We found that when participants adopted an egocentric frame of reference, the previously-observed benefit of previews on within-subject response precision was not manifested, regardless of whether remembered spatial frameworks were derived from vision or spatial language. We conclude that the powerful effect of spatial memory is dependent on one’s frame of reference during self-motion updating.
spatial memory; path integration; vestibular navigation; manual pointing; perception and action
Path integration is a process in which observers derive their location by integrating self-motion signals along their locomotion trajectory. Although the medial temporal lobe (MTL) is thought to take part in path integration, the scope of its role for path integration remains unclear. To address this issue, we administered a variety of tasks involving path integration and other related processes to a group of neurosurgical patients whose MTL was unilaterally resected as therapy for epilepsy. These patients were unimpaired relative to neurologically intact controls in many tasks that required integration of various kinds of sensory self-motion information. However, the same patients (especially those who had lesions in the right hemisphere) walked farther than the controls when attempting to walk without vision to a previewed target. Importantly, this task was unique in our test battery in that it allowed participants to form a mental representation of the target location and anticipate their upcoming walking trajectory before they began moving. Thus, these results put forth a new idea that the role of MTL structures for human path integration may stem from their participation in predicting the consequences of one's locomotor actions. The strengths of this new theoretical viewpoint are discussed.
The ground plane is thought to be an important reference for localizing objects, particularly when angular declination is informative, as it is for objects seen resting at floor level. A potential role for eye movements has been implicated by the idea that information about the nearby ground is required to localize objects more distant, and by the fact that the time course for the extraction of distance extends beyond the duration of a typical eye fixation. To test this potential role, eye movements were monitored when participants previewed targets. Distance estimates were provided by walking without vision to the remembered target location (blind walking) or by verbal report. We found that a strategy of holding the gaze steady on the object was as frequent as one where the region between the observer and object was fixated. There was no performance advantage associated with making eye movements in an observational study (Experiment 1) or when an eye-movement strategy was manipulated experimentally (Experiment 2). Observers were extracting useful information covertly, however. In Experiments 3 through 5, obscuring the nearby ground plane had a modest impact on performance; obscuring the walls and ceiling was more detrimental. The results suggest that these alternate surfaces provide useful information when judging the distance to objects within indoor environments. Critically, they constrain the role for the nearby ground plane in theories of egocentric distance perception.
distance perception; angular declination; eye movements
Visual perception of absolute distance (between an observer and an object) is based upon multiple sources of information that must be extracted during scene viewing. The viewing duration needed to fully extract distance information, particularly in navigable real-world environments, is unknown. In a visually-directed walking task, a sensitive response to distance was observed with 9-ms glimpses when floor- and eye-level targets were employed. However, response compression occurred with eye-level targets when angular size was rendered uninformative. Performance at brief durations was characterized by underestimation, unless preceded by a block of extended-viewing trials. The results indicate a role for experience in the extraction of information during brief glimpses. Even without prior experience, the extraction of useful information is virtually immediate when the cues of angular size or angular declination are informative.
Arousal has long been known to influence behavior and serves as an underlying component of cognition and consciousness. However, the consequences of hyper-arousal for visual perception remain unclear. The present study evaluates the impact of hyper-arousal on two aspects of visual sensitivity: visual stereoacuity and contrast thresholds. Sixty-eight participants participated in two experiments. Thirty-four participants were randomly divided into two groups in each experiment: Arousal Stimulation or Sham Control. The Arousal Stimulation group underwent a 50-second cold pressor stimulation (immersing the foot in 0–2° C water), a technique known to increase arousal. In contrast, the Sham Control group immersed their foot in room temperature water. Stereoacuity thresholds (Experiment 1) and contrast thresholds (Experiment 2) were measured before and after stimulation. The Arousal Stimulation groups demonstrated significantly lower stereoacuity and contrast thresholds following cold pressor stimulation, whereas the Sham Control groups showed no difference in thresholds. These results provide the first evidence that hyper-arousal from sensory stimulation can lower visual thresholds. Hyper-arousal's ability to decrease visual thresholds has important implications for survival, sports, and everyday life.
Non-sensory (cognitive) inputs can play a powerful role in monitoring one’s self-motion. Previously, we showed that access to spatial memory dramatically increases response precision in an angular self-motion updating task . Here, we examined whether spatial memory also enhances a particular type of self-motion updating – angular path integration. “Angular path integration” refers to the ability to maintain an estimate of self-location after a rotational displacement by integrating internally-generated (idiothetic) self-motion signals over time. It was hypothesized that remembered spatial frameworks derived from vision and spatial language should facilitate angular path integration by decreasing the uncertainty of self-location estimates. To test this we implemented a whole-body rotation paradigm with passive, non-visual body rotations (ranging 40°–140°) administered about the yaw axis. Prior to the rotations, visual previews (Experiment 1) and verbal descriptions (Experiment 2) of the surrounding environment were given to participants. Perceived angular displacement was assessed by open-loop pointing to the origin (0°). We found that within-subject response precision significantly increased when participants were provided a spatial context prior to whole-body rotations. The present study goes beyond our previous findings by first establishing that memory of the environment enhances the processing of idiothetic self-motion signals. Moreover, we show that knowledge of one’s immediate environment, whether gained from direct visual perception or from indirect experience (i.e., spatial language), facilitates the integration of incoming self-motion signals.
Spatial memory; path integration; vestibular navigation; manual pointing
The present study examined how cold pressor stimulation influences electrophysiological correlates of arousal. We measured the P50 auditory evoked response potential in two groups of subjects who immersed their foot in either cold (0–2°C) or room temperature (22–24°C) water for 50 seconds. The P50, which was recorded before and after stimulation, is sleep-state dependent and sensitive to states of arousal in clinical populations. We found a significant reduction in P50 amplitude after exposure to cold, but not room temperature water. In comparison with other studies, these results indicate that cold pressor stimulation in normal subjects may evoke a regulatory process that modulates the P50 amplitude, perhaps to preserve the integrity of sensory perception, even as autonomic and subjective aspects of arousal increase.
arousal; auditory evoked response potential; cold pressor stimulation; P50 ERP; regulatory arousal response; sensory perception
Blind walking has become a common measure of perceived target location. This article addresses the possibility that blind walking might vary systematically within an experimental session as participants accrue exposure to nonvisual locomotion. Such variations could complicate the interpretation of blind walking as a measure of perceived location. We measured walked distance, velocity, and pace length in indoor and outdoor environments (1.5–16.0 m target distances). Walked distance increased over 37 trials by approximately 9.33% of the target distance; velocity (and to a lesser extent, pace length) also increased, primarily in the first few trials. In addition, participants exhibited more unintentional forward drift in a blindfolded marching-in-place task after exposure to nonvisual walking. The results suggest that participants not only gain confidence as blind-walking exposure increases, but also adapt to nonvisual walking in a way that biases responses toward progressively longer walked distances.
D. R. Proffitt and colleagues (e. g., D. R. Proffitt, J. Stefanucci, T. Banton, & W. Epstein, 2003) have suggested that objects appear farther away if more effort is required to act upon them (e.g., by having to throw a ball). The authors attempted to replicate several findings supporting this view but found no effort-related effects in a variety of conditions differing in environment, type of effort, and intention to act. Although they did find an effect of effort on verbal reports when participants were instructed to take into account nonvisual (cognitive) factors, no effort-related effect was found under apparent- and objective-distance instruction types. The authors’ interpretation is that in the paradigms tested, effort manipulations are prone to influencing response calibration because they encourage participants to take nonperceptual connotations of distance into account while leaving perceived distance itself unaffected. This in no way rules out the possibility that effort influences perception in other contexts, but it does focus attention on the role of response calibration in any verbal distance estimation task.
egocentric distance perception; effort; calibration; visual perception; instruction type
Blindwalking has become a common measure of perceived absolute distance and location, but it requires a relatively large testing space and cannot be used with people for whom walking is difficult or impossible. In the present article, we describe an alternative response type that is closely matched to blindwalking in several important respects but is less resource intensive. In the blindpulling technique, participants view a target, then close their eyes and pull a length of tape or rope between the hands to indicate the remembered target distance. As with blindwalking, this response requires integration of cyclical, bilateral limb movements over time. Blindpulling and blindwalking responses are tightly linked across a range of viewing conditions, and blindpulling is accurate when prior exposure to visually guided pulling is provided. Thus, blindpulling shows promise as a measure of perceived distance that may be used in nonambulatory populations and when the space available for testing is limited.
Previous studies have demonstrated large errors (over 30°) in visually perceived exocentric directions (the direction between two objects that are both displaced from the observer’s location; e.g., Philbeck et al., in press). Here, we investigated whether a similar pattern occurs in auditory space. Blindfolded participants either attempted to aim a pointer at auditory targets (an exocentric task) or gave a verbal estimate of the egocentric target azimuth. Targets were located at 20° to 160° azimuth in the right hemispace. For comparison, we also collected pointing and verbal judgments for visual targets. We found that exocentric pointing responses exhibited sizeable undershooting errors, for both auditory and visual targets, that tended to become more strongly negative as azimuth increased (up to −19° for visual targets at 160°). Verbal estimates of the auditory and visual target azimuths, however, showed a dramatically different pattern, with relatively small overestimations of azimuths in the rear hemispace. At least some of the differences between verbal and pointing responses appear to be due to the frames of reference underlying the responses; when participants used the pointer to reproduce the egocentric target azimuth rather than the exocentric target direction relative to the pointer, the pattern of pointing errors more closely resembled that seen in verbal reports. These results show that there are similar distortions in perceiving exocentric directions in visual and auditory space.
manual pointing; auditory space perception; perception / action; perceived direction; spatial cognition