Wayfinding on foot from information in retinal, not optical, flow

J Exp Psychol Gen. 1992 Mar;121(1):41-72. doi: 10.1037//0096-3445.121.1.41.


People find their way through cluttered environments with ease and without injury. How do they do it? Two approaches to wayfinding are considered: Differential motion parallax (DMP) is a retinal motion invariant of near and far objects moving against fixation; the information in optical flow (IOF) is a radial pattern of vectors, relying on decomposition of retinal flow. Evidence is presented that DMP guides wayfinding during natural gait, accounting for errors as well as correct responses. Evidence against IOF is also presented, and a space-time aliasing artifact that can contaminate IOF displays is explored. Finally, DMP and IOF are separated, showing they can yield different results in different environments. Thus, it is concluded that (a) DMP and IOF are different, (b) DMP and not IOF is used for wayfinding, (c) moving observers do not usually decompose retinal flow, and (d) optical flow may be a mathematical fiction with no psychological reality.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Distance Perception / physiology
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Social Environment*