Laboratory Experiments in Psychology

By Joseph C. Stevens; Richard J. Herrnstein et al. | Go to book overview

9
Perceiving Direction of Movement

INTRODUCTION

Perception is often characterized by its ambiguity. A large number of physically distinguishable events in the environment may produce equivalent stimulation in the observer. For example, the retinal projections of a tilted circle and an upright ellipse may have the same shape and size. The famous reversible staircase and the Necker cube are other examples. What the person perceives under these conditions cannot be predicted simply by the geometry of the image cast on the retina, and, consequently, one of the problems of perception is to specify the factors that determine the perceptual outcome when stimulation is ambiguous.

A good example of the ambiguity of perception was provided by Wallach. Imagine a straight stripe moving in uniform direction and velocity behind a circular reduction window (see Figure 9-1A). In the absence of other information, there is no way for an observer to know the direction of the real movement of the line. Horizontal movement and vertical movement will, for example, produce the same temporal pattern of stimulation on the retina. At a given time the perceiver will, of course, see the line moving in some specific direction. The perceived direction (see Figure 9-1B) may or may not correspond to the real direction of movement, and characteristically the perception actually shifts, sometimes with almost discon

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