Implied dynamics biases the visual perception of velocity

Barbara La Scaleia, Myrka Zago, Alessandro Moscatelli, Francesco Lacquaniti, Paolo Viviani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We expand the anecdotic report by Johansson that back-and-forth linear harmonic motions appear uniform. Six experiments explore the role of shape and spatial orientation of the trajectory of a point-light target in the perceptual judgment of uniform motion. In Experiment 1, the target oscillated back-and-forth along a circular arc around an invisible pivot. The imaginary segment from the pivot to the midpoint of the trajectory could be oriented vertically downward (consistent with an upright pendulum), horizontally leftward, or vertically upward (upside-down). In Experiments 2 to 5, the target moved uni-directionally. The effect of suppressing the alternation of movement directions was tested with curvilinear (Experiment 2 and 3) or rectilinear (Experiment 4 and 5) paths. Experiment 6 replicated the upright condition of Experiment 1, but participants were asked to hold the gaze on a fixation point. When some features of the trajectory evoked the motion of either a simple pendulum or a mass-spring system, observers identified as uniform the kinematic profiles close to harmonic motion. The bias towards harmonic motion was most consistent in the upright orientation of Experiment 1 and 6. The bias disappeared when the stimuli were incompatible with both pendulum and mass-spring models (Experiments 3 to 5). The results are compatible with the hypothesis that the perception of dynamic stimuli is biased by the laws of motion obeyed by natural events, so that only natural motions appear uniform.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere93020
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 25 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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