Active versus Passive Processing of Biological Motion.
I.M. Thornton, Cambridge Basic Research, Nissan Research & Development, Inc., Cambridge MA.
R.A. Rensink, Cambridge Basic Research, Nissan Research & Development, Inc., Cambridge MA.
M. Shiffrar, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, Newark NJ.

CBR Technical Report TR-99-7. 1999.


Many species, including our own, appear to be particularly sensitive to patterns of motion generated by other living organisms. As biological motion plays such an important role in survival, it seems likely that visual systems might recruit mechanisms at multiple levels, including both high and low, in order to provide robust and efficient processing. In the current work, we use a dual-task paradigm to explore the role of attention in the processing of point-light walker displays (Johansson, 1973). In two experiments we find striking differences in the degree to which direction discrimination performance in point-light walker displays appears to rely on attention. Specifically, we found that performance in displays thought to involve top-down processing, either in time (Experiment 1) or space (Experiment 2), depends to a large extent on the availability of attention. In contrast, performance was disrupted very little by dividing attention in displays thought to favor low-level, local computations. We interpret these results using the active/passive motion distinction introduced by Cavanagh (1991).

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