Contrast effects on speed perception for linear and radial motion

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Speed perception is vital for safe activity in the environment. However, considerable evidence suggests that perceived speed changes as a function of stimulus contrast, with some investigators suggesting that this might have meaningful real-world consequences (e.g. driving in fog). In the present study we investigate whether the neural effects of contrast on speed perception occur at the level of local or global motion processing. To do this we examine both speed discrimination thresholds and contrast-dependent speed perception for two global motion configurations that have matched local spatio-temporal structure. Specifically we compare linear and radial configurations, the latter of which arises very commonly due to self-movement. In experiment 1 the stimuli comprised circular grating patches. In experiment 2, to match stimuli even more closely, motion was presented in multiple local Gabor patches equidistant from central fixation. Each patch contained identical linear motion but the global configuration was either consistent with linear or radial motion. In both experiments 1 and 2, discrimination thresholds and contrast-induced speed biases were similar in linear and radial conditions. These results suggest that contrast-based speed effects occur only at the level of local motion processing, irrespective of global structure. This result is interpreted in the context of previous models of speed perception and evidence suggesting differences in perceived speed of locally matched linear and radial stimuli.

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