How haptic size sensations improve distance perception

Peter W. Battaglia, Daniel Kersten, Paul R. Schrater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Determining distances to objects is one of the most ubiquitous perceptual tasks in everyday life. Nevertheless, it is challenging because the information from a single image confounds object size and distance. Though our brains frequently judge distances accurately, the underlying computations employed by the brain are not well understood. Our work illuminates these computions by formulating a family of probabilistic models that encompass a variety of distinct hypotheses about distance and size perception. We compare these models' predictions to a set of human distance judgments in an interception experiment and use Bayesian analysis tools to quantitatively select the best hypothesis on the basis of its explanatory power and robustness over experimental data. The central question is: whether, and how, human distance perception incorporates size cues to improve accuracy. Our conclusions are: 1) humans incorporate haptic object size sensations for distance perception, 2) the incorporation of haptic sensations is suboptimal given their reliability, 3) humans use environmentally accurate size and distance priors, 4) distance judgments are produced by perceptual "posterior sampling". In addition, we compared our model's estimated sensory and motor noise parameters with previously reported measurements in the perceptual literature and found good correspondence between them. Taken together, these results represent a major step forward in establishing the computational underpinnings of human distance perception and the role of size information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002080
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011

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