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Self-motion and the perception of stationary objects

One of the ways that we perceive shape is through seeing motion. Visual motion may be actively generated (for example, in locomotion), or passively observed. In the study of the perception of three-dimensional structure from motion, the non-moving, passive observer in an environment of moving rigid objects has been used as a substitute for an active observer moving in an environment of stationary objects; this 'rigidity hypothesis' has played a central role in computational and experimental studies of structure from motion. Here we show that this is not an adequate substitution because active and passive observers can perceive three-dimensional structure differently, despite experiencing the same visual stimulus: active observers' perception of three-dimensional structure depends on extraretinal information about their own movements. The visual system thus treats objects that are stationary (in an allocentric, earth-fixed reference frame) differently from objects that are merely rigid. These results show that action makes an important contribution to depth perception, and argue for a revision of the rigidity hypothesis to incorporate the special case of stationary objects.



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