Collision judgment of objects approaching the head

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Abstract

Recent investigations have indicated that human perception of the trajectory of objects approaching in the horizontal plane is precise but biased away from straight ahead. This is remarkable because it could mean that subjects perceive objects that approach on a collision course as missing the head. Approach within the horizontal plane through the eyes and the fixation point (the plane of regard) is special, as general motions will also have a component of motion perpendicular to the plane of regard. Thus, we investigated three-dimensional motion perception in the vicinity of the head, including vertical components. Subjects judged whether an object that moved in the mid-sagittal plane was going to hit below or above a well-known reference point on the face like the center of the chin or the forehead (perceptual task). Tactile and proprioceptive information about the reference point significantly improved precision. Precision did not change with distance of the approaching target or with fixation direction. Bias was virtually absent for these vertical motions. When subjects pointed with their index finger to the perceived location of impact on their face (visuo-motor task), they overestimated (1.7 cm) the horizontal eccentricity of the point of impact (pointing task). Vertical bias, however, was again virtually absent. Interestingly, when trajectories intersected the plane of regard, higher precision was observed in the perceptual task regardless of the other conditions. In contrast, neither bias nor precision of the pointing task changed significantly when the trajectories intersected the plane of regard. When asked to point to the location where a trajectory intersected the plane of regard, subjects overestimated the depth component of this intersection location by about 3 cm. The absence of perceptual and pointing bias in the vertical direction in contrast to the clear horizontal bias suggests that different (combinations of) cues are used to judge these components of the trajectory of an approaching object. The results of our perceptual task suggest a role for somatosensory signals in the visual judgment of impending impact.

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