Perception dependent on object speed, study finds

Science Daily reports on new research from a university in the UK:

The new research studies why the human brain has difficulty perceiving fast moving objects coming from straight ahead; something that should be a key survival skill. The research has implications for understanding how top-class sportspeople make decisions about playing a shot but could also be important for improving road safety and for the development of robotic vision systems.

The information that the brain uses to process moving objects and to estimate their likely trajectory – which can then be used to decide whether to move out of the way or how to play a shot or catch a ball – is biased by the generally slow moving world around us. Dr Andrew Welchman, a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) David Phillips Fellow, has discovered that this bias affects the way we perceive and interpret objects approaching from dead ahead far more than objects moving side-to-side in our field of vision.

Dr Welchman explains: “We may think we live in a fast moving, hectic world, but statistically our environment moves around us slowly. Apart from the odd speeding car, buildings, landscape and walls around us all move past us at slow and predictable speeds. Our brains are constantly building up a statistical picture of the world around and, based on experience, it is a statistically slow world.

“When an object moves quickly – be it a football, cricket ball or, for our ancestors, a spear – our brains have to interpret the movement rapidly and, because our brains draw on experience, it’s often biased by what it already knows. The less certain we are about what we see, the more we are influenced by the brain’s statistical assumptions, which means in some circumstances we get it wrong.”

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