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Séamas Weech, Matthew McAdam, Sophie Kenny, Nikolaus F. Troje; What causes the facing-the-viewer bias in biological motion?. Journal of Vision 2014;14(12):10. doi: 10.1167/14.12.10.
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Orthographically projected biological motion point-light displays are generally ambiguous with respect to their orientation in depth, yet observers consistently prefer the facing-the-viewer interpretation. There has been discussion as to whether this bias can be attributed to the social relevance of biological motion stimuli or relates to local, low-level stimulus properties. In the present study we address this question. In Experiment 1, we compared the facing-the-viewer bias produced by a series of four stick figures and three human silhouettes that differed in posture, gender, and the presence versus absence of walking motion. Using a paradigm in which we asked observers to indicate the spinning direction of these figures, we found no bias when participants observed silhouettes, whereas a pronounced degree of bias was elicited by most stick figures. We hypothesized that the ambiguous surface normals on the lines and dots that comprise stick figures are prone to a visual bias that assumes surfaces to be convex. The local surface orientations of the occluding contours of silhouettes are unambiguous, and as such the convexity bias does not apply. In Experiment 2, we tested the role of local features in ambiguous surface perception by adding dots to the elbows and knees of silhouettes. We found biases consistent with the facing directions implied by a convex body surface. The results unify a number of findings regarding the facing-the-viewer bias. We conclude that the facing-the-viewer bias is established at the level of surface reconstruction from local image features rather than on a semantic level.
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