Intercepting an object requires a precise estimate of its time of arrival at the interception point (time to contact or "TTC"). It has been proposed that knowledge about gravitational acceleration can be combined with first-order, visual-field information to provide a better estimate of TTC when catching falling objects. In this experiment, we investigated the relative role of visual and nonvisual information on motor-response timing in an interceptive task. Subjects were immersed in a stereoscopic virtual environment and asked to intercept with a virtual racket a ball falling from above or rising from below. The ball moved with different initial velocities and could accelerate, decelerate, or move at a constant speed. Depending on the direction of motion, the acceleration or deceleration of the ball could therefore be congruent or not with the acceleration that would be expected due to the force of gravity acting on the ball. Although the best success rate was observed for balls moving at a constant velocity, we systematically found a cross-effect of ball direction and acceleration on success rate and response timing. Racket motion was triggered on average 25 ms earlier when the ball fell from above than when it rose from below, whatever the ball's true acceleration. As visual-flow information was the same in both cases, this shift indicates an influence of the ball's direction relative to gravity on response timing, consistent with the anticipation of the effects of gravity on the flight of the ball.
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