What motion distributions yield global transparency and spatial segmentation?

A.T. Smith, William Curran, O.J. Braddick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


We have examined the ability of observers to parse bimodal local-motion distributions into two global motion surfaces, either overlapping (yielding transparent motion) or spatially segregated (yielding a motion boundary). The stimuli were random dot kinematograms in which the direction of motion of each dot was drawn from one of two rectangular probability distributions. A wide range of direction distribution widths and separations was tested. The ability to discriminate the direction of motion of one of the two motion surfaces from the direction of a comparison stimulus was used as an objective test of the perception of two discrete surfaces. Performance for both transparent and spatially segregated motion was remarkably good, being only slightly inferior to that achieved with a single global motion surface. Performance was consistently better for segregated motion than for transparency. Whereas transparent motion was only perceived with direction distributions which were separated by a significant gap, segregated motion could be seen with abutting or even partially overlapping direction distributions. For transparency, the critical gap increased with the range of directions in the distribution. This result does not support models in which transparency depends on detection of a minimum size of gap defining a bimodal direction distribution. We suggest, instead, that the operations which detect bimodality are scaled (in the direction domain) with the overall range of distributions. This yields a flexible, adaptive system that determines whether a gap in the direction distribution serves as a segmentation cue or is smoothed as part of a unitary computation of global motion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1121-1132
Number of pages12
JournalVision Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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