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Motion streaks provide a spatial code for motion direction


Although many neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) of primates are direction selective1, they provide ambiguous information about the direction of motion of a stimulus2,3. There is evidence that one of the ways in which the visual system resolves this ambiguity is by computing, from the responses of V1 neurons, velocity components in two or more spatial orientations and then combining these velocity components2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Here I consider another potential neural mechanism for determining motion direction. When a localized image feature moves fast enough, it should become smeared in space owing to temporal integration in the visual system, creating a spatial signal—a ‘motion streak’—oriented in the direction of the motion. The orientation masking and adaptation experiments reported here show that these spatial signals for motion direction exist in the human visual system for feature speeds above about 1 feature width per 100 ms. Computer simulations show that this psychophysical finding is consistent with the known response properties of V1 neurons, and that these spatial signals, when appropriately processed, are sufficient to determine motion direction in natural images.

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Figure 1: The two stimulus conditions in a masking experiment designed to determine whether the neural mechanisms most responsive to moving dots have their preferred spatial orientations parallel or perpendicular to the direction of motion.
Figure 2: Results of forced-choice detection experiment.
Figure 3: Neural simulations.
Figure 4: Results of tilt after-effect experiment.


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I thank B. Henning for pointing out the potential value of orientation masking in this context. D. Albrecht, L. Cormack and B. Henning provided helpful discussions as well as comments on the manuscript. Supported by the National Eye Institute, NIH.

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Correspondence to Wilson S. Geisler.

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Geisler, W. Motion streaks provide a spatial code for motion direction. Nature 400, 65–69 (1999).

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