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Srimant P. Tripathy, Brendan T. Barrett; Severe loss of positional information when detecting deviations in multiple trajectories. Journal of Vision 2004;4(12):4. doi: 10.1167/4.12.4.
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Human observers can simultaneously track up to five targets in motion (Z. W. Pylyshyn & R. W. Storm, 1988). We examined the precision for detecting deviations in linear trajectories by measuring deviation thresholds as a function of the number of trajectories (T). When all trajectories in the stimulus undergo the same deviation, thresholds are uninfluenced by T for T <= 10. When only one of the trajectories undergoes a deviation, thresholds rise steeply as T is increased [e.g., 3.3° (T = 1), 12.3° (T = 2), 32.9° (T = 4) for one observer]; observers are unable to simultaneously process more than one trajectory in our threshold-measuring paradigm. When the deviating trajectory is cued (e.g., using a different color), varying T has little influence on deviation threshold. The use of a different color for each trajectory does not facilitate deviation detection. Our current data suggest that for deviations that have low discriminability (i.e., close to threshold) the number of trajectories that can be monitored effectively is close to one. In contrast, when the stimuli containing highly discriminable (i.e., substantially suprathreshold) deviations are used, as many as three or four trajectories can be simultaneously monitored (S. P. Tripathy, 2003). Our results highlight a severe loss of positional information when attempting to track multiple objects, particularly in a threshold paradigm.
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