Catching What We Can't See: Manual Interception of Occluded Fly-Ball Trajectories

Gianfranco Bosco, Sergio Delle Monache, Francesco Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Control of interceptive actions may involve fine interplay between feedback-based and predictive mechanisms. These processes rely heavily on target motion information available when the target is visible. However, short-term visual memory signals as well as implicit knowledge about the environment may also contribute to elaborate a predictive representation of the target trajectory, especially when visual feedback is partially unavailable because other objects occlude the visual target. To determine how different processes and information sources are integrated in the control of the interceptive action, we manipulated a computer-generated visual environment representing a baseball game. Twenty-four subjects intercepted fly-ball trajectories by moving a mouse cursor and by indicating the interception with a button press. In two separate sessions, fly-ball trajectories were either fully visible or occluded for 750, 1000 or 1250 ms before ball landing. Natural ball motion was perturbed during the descending trajectory with effects of either weightlessness (0 g) or increased gravity (2 g) at times such that, for occluded trajectories, 500 ms of perturbed motion were visible before ball disappearance. To examine the contribution of previous visual experience with the perturbed trajectories to the interception of invisible targets, the order of visible and occluded sessions was permuted among subjects. Under these experimental conditions, we showed that, with fully visible targets, subjects combined servo-control and predictive strategies. Instead, when intercepting occluded targets, subjects relied mostly on predictive mechanisms based, however, on different type of information depending on previous visual experience. In fact, subjects without prior experience of the perturbed trajectories showed interceptive errors consistent with predictive estimates of the ball trajectory based on a-priori knowledge of gravity. Conversely, the interceptive responses of subjects previously exposed to fully visible trajectories were compatible with the fact that implicit knowledge of the perturbed motion was also taken into account for the extrapolation of occluded trajectories.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere49381
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 14 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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