BackgroundHuman vision is vital in determining our interaction with the outside world. In this study we characterize our ability to judge changes in the direction of motion of objects-a common task which can allow us either to intercept moving objects, or else avoid them if they pose a threat.
Methodology/principal findingsObservers were presented with objects which moved across a computer monitor on a linear path until the midline, at which point they changed their direction of motion, and observers were required to judge the direction of change. In keeping with the variety of objects we encounter in the real world, we varied characteristics of the moving stimuli such as velocity, extent of motion path and the object size. Furthermore, we compared performance for moving objects with the ability of observers to detect a deviation in a line which formed the static trace of the motion path, since it has been suggested that a form of static memory trace may form the basis for these types of judgment. The static line judgments were well described by a 'scale invariant' model in which any two stimuli which possess the same two-dimensional geometry (length/width) result in the same level of performance. Performance for the moving objects was entirely different. Irrespective of the path length, object size or velocity of motion, path deviation thresholds depended simply upon the duration of the motion path in seconds.
Conclusions/significanceHuman vision has long been known to integrate information across space in order to solve spatial tasks such as judgment of orientation or position. Here we demonstrate an intriguing mechanism which integrates direction information across time in order to optimize the judgment of path deviation for moving objects.