Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Ground Is Dominant in Infants' Perception of Relative Distance

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Ground Is Dominant in Infants' Perception of Relative Distance

Article excerpt

Published online: 10 November 2012

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract When making relative distance judgments, adults attend to information provided by the ground surface and generally ignore information provided by ceiling surfaces. In the present study, we asked whether this ground dominance effect is present in infancy. Groups of 5- and 7-month-old infants viewed a display depicting textured ground and ceiling surfaces. Two toys, which were attached to vertical rods, were affixed to the display. The toys/rods were positioned so that one toy was specified as being nearer by the ground surface but farther away by the ceiling surface, while the other toy was specified as being farther away by the ground surface but nearer by the ceiling surface. Under monocular viewing conditions, the infants in both age groups reached preferentially for the toy that was specified as being nearer by the ground surface. This effect was significantly stronger than that observed under binocular viewing conditions. The findings indicate that the infants responded to the distance information provided by the ground surface to a greater extent than to information provided by the ceiling.

Keywords Infant vision . Perceptual development . Texture cues . Ground dominance effect . Pictorial depth cues . Depth perception . Distance perception

Gibson (1950) argued that the ground surface is uniquely important for spatial perception because we are terrestrial beings who depend on the ground surface for locomotion. Consistent with this view, research with adult participants has indicated that the ground surface plays a dominant role in the perception of spatial layout (e.g., Feria, Braunstein, & Andersen, 2003; He, Wu, Ooi, Yarbrough, & Wu, 2004; Meng & Sedgwick, 2001, 2002; Sinai, Ooi, & He, 1998; Wu, He, & Ooi, 2008). For example, Sinai et al. showed that the presence of discontinuities on a ground surface strongly affected distance perception and visually directed action.

If the ground surface is of special importance among the surfaces of our environment, it should be superior to ceiling surfaces and other planes in perceptual tasks. Indeed, several studies have provided evidence that visual search is made more efficient by a ground-like instead of a ceiling-like arrangement of the search array (McCarley & He, 2000, 2001; see also Morita & Kumada, 2003). Moreover, a ground surface facilitates 3-D size estimation (Champion & Warren, 2010) and detection of change (Bian & Andersen, 2010) more than ceilings and other surfaces do, and visual space is perceived as being less compressed when viewing a ground surface than when viewing a ceiling surface (Bian & Andersen, 2011).

The ground surface also plays a dominant role in the perception of relative distances. Bian, Braunstein, and Andersen (2005) showed adult participants two rods surrounded by ground and ceiling surfaces. One of the rods covered more ground texture than ceiling texture, and the other covered more ceiling texture. As a result, the two surfaces provided contradictory information about the rods' distances. For example, in Fig. 1, which shows a display similar to those used by Bian et al. (2005), the ground surface specifies that the leftrod/toy is near, and the ceiling specifies that it is far away. In contrast, the ground surface specifies the right rod/toy as being far away, and the ceiling specifies that it is near. Bian et al. (2005) found that the rods' perceived relative distances were determined by the ground surface. The participants judged the rod that covered more ground texture to be nearer, disregarding the depth information from the ceiling. This ground dominance effect was independent of differences in the rods' heights. Moreover, Bian, Braunstein, and Andersen (2006) found that the ground dominance effect was independent of location in the visual field: It occurred when the ground and ceiling surfaces were both positioned above the fixation point, when both were below the fixation point, and when one was above and the other below the fixation point. …

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