Cardinal directions for visual optic flow

M. Concetta Morrone, David C. Burr, Silvia Di Pietro, Maria Antonietta Stefanelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As we move through our environment, the flow of deforming images on the retinae provides a rich source of information about the three-dimensional structure of the external world and how to navigate through it. Recent evidence from psychophysical [1-4], electrophysiological [5-9] and imaging [10,11] studies suggests that there are neurons in the primate visual system - in the medial superior temporal cortex - that are specialised to respond to this type of complex 'optic flow' motion. In principle, optic flow could be encoded by a small number of neural mechanisms tuned to 'cardinal directions', including radial and circular motion [12,13]. There is little support for this idea at present, however, from either physiological [6,7] or psychophysical [14] research. We have measured the sensitivity of human subjects for detection of motion and for discrimination of motion direction over a wide and densely sampled range of complex motions. Average sensitivity was higher for inward and outward radial movement and for both directions of rotation, consistent with the existence of detectors tuned to these four types of motion. Principle component analysis revealed two clear components, one for radial stimuli (outward and inward) and the other for circular stimuli (clockwise and counter-clockwise). The results imply that the mechanisms that analyse optic flow in humans tend to be tuned to the cardinal axes of radial and rotational motion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-766
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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