The relative contributions of various viewpoint oscillation frequencies to the perception of distance traveled

  • Bossard Martin
  • Mestre Daniel


Humans and most animals are able to navigate in their environment, which generates sensorial information of various kinds, such as proprioceptive cues and optic flow. Previous research focusing on the visual effects of walking (bob, sway, and lunge head motion) has shown that the perception of forward self-motion experienced by static observers can be modulated by adding simulated viewpoint oscillations to the radial flow. In three experimental studies, we examined the effects of several viewpoint oscillation frequencies on static observers' perception of the distance traveled, assuming the assessment of distance traveled to be part of the path integration process. Experiment 1 showed that observers' estimates depended on the frequency of the viewpoint oscillations. In Experiment 2, increasing the viewpoint oscillation frequency actually led to an increase in the global retinal flow. It also emerged that simulated viewpoint oscillations enhance the sensation of self-motion: In a specific low-frequency range (< 4 Hz), they improved subjects' estimates of the distances traveled. Lastly, in Experiment 3, observers were presented with two different simulated viewpoint oscillation patterns, both involving the same amount of global retinal motion, but in one case, the pattern simulated the visual effects of natural walking, and in the other case, the pattern was not biologically realistic. Contrary to the predictions of a previous ecological hypothesis, the subjects gave similar responses under both conditions. The global retinal motion may be mainly responsible for these effects, which were found to be optimal in a specific fairly low-oscillation frequency range.