Blurring of the senses: common cues for distance perception in diverse sensory systems

Neuroscience. 2002;114(1):19-22. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(02)00220-8.


Distance perception is an essential task of sensory systems. Our visual systems effectively use binocular visual cues to determine an object's distance. Other visual, but monocular, cues are also available for distance perception. Visual contrast and image blur are two such cues [O'Shea et al., 1994. Vis. Res. 34, 1595-1604; O'Shea et al., 1997. Perception 26, 599-612; Mather, 1997. Perception 26, 1147-1158]. We show the effects of combining these cues using a simple psychophysical test. The novelty in our approach is that our exact choice of visual stimuli allows us to show a direct parallel between visual distance perception and distance perception using an entirely different sense, the electric sense of weakly electric fish. We discuss previous work on electrosensory psychophysics [von der Emde et al., 1998. Nature 395, 890-894] and show that cues used for electrosensory distance perception are analogous to visual contrast and blur. We also suggest that analogous cues are involved in auditory distance perception. The utilization of analogous cues implies that these diverse sensory systems perform similar computations for distance perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Electric Fish / physiology
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Humans
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Vision, Monocular / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*