Contributions of form, motion and task to biological motion perception

Thirkettle, M.; Benton, C. P. and Scott-Samuel, N. E. (2009). Contributions of form, motion and task to biological motion perception. Journal of Vision, 9(3), article no. 28.



The ability of human observers to detect ‘biological motion’ of humans and animals has been taken as evidence of specialized perceptual mechanisms. This ability remains unimpaired when the stimulus is reduced to a moving array of dots representing only the joints of the agent: the point light walker (PLW) (G. Johansson, 1973). Such stimuli arguably contain underlying form, and recent debate has centered on the contributions of form and motion to their processing (J. O. Garcia & E. D. Grossman, 2008; E. Hiris, 2007). Human actions contain periodic variations in form; we exploit this by using brief presentations to reveal how these natural variations affect perceptual processing. Comparing performance with static and dynamic presentations reveals the influence of integrative motion signals. Form information appears to play a critical role in biological motion processing and our results show that this information is supported, not replaced, by the integrative motion signals conveyed by the relationships between the dots of the PLW. However, our data also suggest strong task effects on the relevance of the information presented by the PLW. We discuss the relationship between task performance and stimulus in terms of form and motion information, and the implications for conclusions drawn from PLW based studies.

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