Viewpoint oscillation improves the perception of distance travelled based on optic flow

  • Bossard Martin
  • Cédric Goulon
  • Mestre Daniel


When static observers are presented with a visual simulation of forward self-motion, they generally misestimate distance travelled relative to a previously seen distant target: It has been suggested that this finding can be accounted for by a ‘‘leaky path integration’’ model. In the present study, using a similar experimental procedure, this result was confirmed. It was also established that combining the translational optical flow with simulated head oscillations (similar to those during natural walking) improved the subjects’ perception of the distance travelled in comparison with a purely translational flow. This improvement may be attributable to the fact that an optic flow pattern resembling that associated with walking enhances the path integration process. In a subsequent experiment, we investigated whether it was the biological or the rhythmical characteristics of the simulation that enhanced the subjects’ estimates of the distance travelled. The results obtained confirm that adding rhythmic components to the optic flow pattern improved the accuracy of subjects’ perception of the distance travelled. However, no significant differences between biological and rhythmical oscillations were detected. These results relate to recent studies on the effects of smooth and jittering optic flows on vection onset and strength. One possible conclusion is that oscillations may increase the global retinal motion and thus improve the vection and path integration processes. Another possibility is that the nonmonotonous pattern of retinal motion induced by oscillatory inputs may maintain optimum sensitivity to the optic flow over time and thus improve the accuracy of subjects’ perception of the distance travelled.