The temporal dynamics of heading perception in the presence of moving objects

J Neurophysiol. 2016 Jan 1;115(1):286-300. doi: 10.1152/jn.00866.2015. Epub 2015 Oct 28.


Many forms of locomotion rely on the ability to accurately perceive one's direction of locomotion (i.e., heading) based on optic flow. Although accurate in rigid environments, heading judgments may be biased when independently moving objects are present. The aim of this study was to systematically investigate the conditions in which moving objects influence heading perception, with a focus on the temporal dynamics and the mechanisms underlying this bias. Subjects viewed stimuli simulating linear self-motion in the presence of a moving object and judged their direction of heading. Experiments 1 and 2 revealed that heading perception is biased when the object crosses or almost crosses the observer's future path toward the end of the trial, but not when the object crosses earlier in the trial. Nonetheless, heading perception is not based entirely on the instantaneous optic flow toward the end of the trial. This was demonstrated in Experiment 3 by varying the portion of the earlier part of the trial leading up to the last frame that was presented to subjects. When the stimulus duration was long enough to include the part of the trial before the moving object crossed the observer's path, heading judgments were less biased. The findings suggest that heading perception is affected by the temporal evolution of optic flow. The time course of dorsal medial superior temporal area (MSTd) neuron responses may play a crucial role in perceiving heading in the presence of moving objects, a property not captured by many existing models.

Keywords: MSTd; heading perception; moving objects; optic flow; time.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Male
  • Motion Perception*
  • Optic Flow*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Space Perception*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult