Observers perceive objects in the world as stable over space and time, even though the visual experience of those objects is often discontinuous and distorted due to masking, occlusion, camouflage, or noise. How are we able to easily and quickly achieve stable perception in spite of this constantly changing visual input? It was previously shown that observers experience serial dependence in the perception of features and objects, an effect that extends up to 15 seconds back in time. Here, we asked whether the visual system utilizes an object's prior physical location to inform future position assignments in order to maximize location stability of an object over time. To test this, we presented subjects with small targets at random angular locations relative to central fixation in the peripheral visual field. Subjects reported the perceived location of the target on each trial by adjusting a cursor's position to match its location. Subjects made consistent errors when reporting the perceived position of the target on the current trial, mislocalizing it toward the position of the target in the preceding two trials (Experiment 1). This pull in position perception occurred even when a response was not required on the previous trial (Experiment 2). In addition, we show that serial dependence in perceived position occurs immediately after stimulus presentation, and it is a fast stabilization mechanism that does not require a delay (Experiment 3). This indicates that serial dependence occurs for position representations and facilitates the stable perception of objects in space. Taken together with previous work, our results show that serial dependence occurs at many stages of visual processing, from initial position assignment to object categorization.
Keywords: Perceptual stability; Sequential effects; Serial effects.