Perception of affordances during long-term exposure to weightlessness in the International Space station

Cogn Process. 2015 Sep;16 Suppl 1:171-4. doi: 10.1007/s10339-015-0692-y.


On Earth, visual eye height (VEH)--the distance from the observer's line of gaze to the ground in the visual scene--constitutes an effective cue in perceiving affordance such as the passability through apertures, based on the assumption that one's feet are on the ground. In the present study, we questioned whether an observer continues to use VEH to estimate the width of apertures during long-term exposure to weightlessness, where contact with the floor is not required. Ten astronauts were tested in preflight, inflight in the International Space Station, and postflight sessions. They were asked to adjust the opening of a virtual doorway displayed on a laptop device until it was perceived to be just wide enough to pass through (i.e., the critical aperture). We manipulated VEH by raising and lowering the level of the floor in the visual scene. We observed an effect of VEH manipulation on the critical aperture. When VEH decreased, the critical aperture decreased too, suggesting that widths relative to the body were perceived to be larger when VEH was smaller. There was no overall significant session effect, but the analysis of between-subjects variability revealed two participant profile groups. The effect of weightlessness was different for these two groups even though the VEH strategy remained operational during spaceflight. This study shows that the VEH strategy appears to be very robust and can be used, if necessary, in inappropriate circumstances such as free-floating, perhaps promoted by the nature of the visual scene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Astronauts / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Space Flight*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Weightlessness*