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W. Drew Bromfield, Jason M. Gold; Efficiencies for parts and wholes in biological-motion perception. Journal of Vision 2017;17(12):21. doi: 10.1167/17.12.21.
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People can reliably infer the actions, intentions, and mental states of fellow humans from body movements (Blake & Shiffrar, 2007). Previous research on such biological-motion perception has suggested that the movements of the feet may play a particularly important role in making certain judgments about locomotion (Chang & Troje, 2009; Troje & Westhoff, 2006). One account of this effect is that the human visual system may have evolved specialized processes that are efficient for extracting information carried by the feet (Troje & Westhoff, 2006). Alternatively, the motion of the feet may simply be more discriminable than that of other parts of the body. To dissociate these two possibilities, we measured people's ability to discriminate the walking direction of stimuli in which individual body parts (feet, hands) were removed or shown in isolation. We then compared human performance to that of a statistically optimal observer (Gold, Tadin, Cook, & Blake, 2008), giving us a measure of humans' discriminative ability independent of the information available (a quantity known as efficiency). We found that efficiency was highest when the hands and the feet were shown in isolation. A series of follow-up experiments suggested that observers were relying on a form-based cue with the isolated hands (specifically, the orientation of their path through space) and a motion-based cue with the isolated feet to achieve such high efficiencies. We relate our findings to previous proposals of a distinction between form-based and motion-based mechanisms in biological-motion perception.
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