Effects of a Moving Distractor Object on Time-to-Contact Judgments

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The effects of moving task-irrelevant objects on time-to-contact (TTC) judgments were examined in 5 experiments. Observers viewed a directly approaching target in the presence of a distractor object moving in parallel with the target. In Experiments 1 to 4, observers decided whether the target would have collided with them earlier or later than a standard (absolute identification task). A contrast effect was observed: If the distractor arrived later than the target, it caused a bias toward early responses, relative to the condition without a distractor. The early-arriving distractor had no significant effect. The pattern of results was unaltered when potentially confounding information from individual visual cues was removed. The availability of stereoscopic information reduced the effect. The contrast effect was also observed if target and distractor were abstract geometric objects rather than simulations of real-world vehicles, rendering less likely a simple safety strategy activated by a potentially threatening distractor. Experiment 5 showed that the effect of the late-arriving distractor generalized to a prediction-motion task. The results indicate that task-irrelevant information in the background has to be considered in revision of time-to-contact theory.

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