Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Motion-induced spatial conflict


Borders defined by small changes in brightness (luminance contrast) or by differences in colour (chromatic contrast) appear to move more slowly than those defined by strong luminance contrast1,2,3,4. As spatial coding is influenced by motion5,6,7, if placed in close proximity, the different types of moving border might appear to drift apart8. Using this configuration, we show here that observers instead report a clear illusory spatial jitter of the low-luminance-contrast boundary. This visible interaction between motion and spatial-position coding occurred at a characteristic rate ( 22.3 Hz), although the stimulus motion was continuous and invariant. The jitter rate did not vary with the speed of movement. The jitter was not due to small involuntary movements of the eyes, because it only occurred at a specific point within the stimulus, the low-luminance-contrast boundary. These findings show that the human visual system contains a neural mechanism that periodically resolves the spatial conflict created by adjacent moving borders that have the same physical but different perceptual speeds.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: ‘Fluttering hearts’ illusion.
Figure 2: Schematic diagrams of the stimulus configurations.
Figure 3: Perceived jitter.
Figure 4: Perceived jitter rate.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Anstis, S. Footsteps and inchworms: Illusions show that contrast affects apparent speed. Perception 30, 785–794 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Blakemore, M. R. & Snowden, R. J. The effect of contrast upon perceived speed: a general phenomenon? Perception 28, 33–48 (1999)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Cavanagh, P., Tyler, C. W. & Favreau, O. E. Perceived velocity of moving chromatic gratings. J. Opt. Soc. Am. A1, 893–899 (1984)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Thompson, P. Perceived rate of movement depends on contrast. Vision Res. 22, 377–380 (1982)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. De Valois, R. L. & De Valois, K. K. Vernier acuity with stationary moving Gabors. Vision Res. 31, 1619–1626 (1991)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Nishida, S. & Johnston, A. Influence of motion signals on the perceived position of spatial pattern. Nature 397, 610–612 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Whitney, D. & Cavanagh, P. Motion distorts visual space: shifting the perceived position of remote stationary objects. Nature Neurosci. 3, 954–959 (2000)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Nguyen-Tri, D. & Faubert, J. The fluttering-heart illusion: a new hypothesis. Perception 32, 627–634 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Helmholtz, H. Treatise on Physiological Optics (Dover, New York, 1962)

    Google Scholar 

  10. von Grunau, M. W. The “fluttering heart” and spatio-temporal characteristics of color processing III. Interactions between the systems of the rods and the long-wavelength cones. Vision Res. 16, 397–401 (1976)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Bridgeman, B. & Stark, L. Ocular proprioception and efference copy in registering visual direction. Vision Res. 31, 1903–1913 (1991)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Sherrington, C. S. Observations on the sensual role of the proprioceptive nerve supply of the extrinsic ocular muscles. Brain 41, 332–343 (1918)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Wiesel, T. N. & Hubel, D. H. Spatial and chromatic interactions in the lateral geniculate body of the rhesus monkey. J. Neurophysiol. 29, 1115–1116 (1966)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Campbell, F. W., Robson, J. G. & Westheimer, G. Fluctuations of accommodation under steady viewing. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 145, 579–594 (1959)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Murakami, I. & Cavanagh, P. A jitter after-effect reveals motion-based stabilization of vision. Nature 395, 798–801 (1998)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Murakami, I. Illusory jitter in a static stimulus surrounded by a synchronously flickering pattern. Vision Res. 43, 957–969 (2003)

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  17. Von der Marlsburg, C. & Schneider, W. A neural cocktail-party processor. Biol. Cybern. 54, 29–40 (1986)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Engel, A. K., Konig, P., Kreiter, A. K. & Singer, W. Interhemispheric synchronization of oscillatory neuronal responses in cat visual cortex. Science 252, 1177–1179 (1991)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Engel, A. K. & Singer, W. Temporal binding and the neural correlates of sensory awareness. Trends Cogn. Sci. 5, 16–25 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Anstis, S. M. & Cavanagh, P. in Color Vision: Physiology and Psychophysics (eds Mollon, J. D. & Sharpe, L. T.) 155–166 (Academic, London, 1983)

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to C. Clifford, J. Dale, F. Kandil, S. Nishida and Q. Zaidi for their suggestions and comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Derek H. Arnold.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information: this zip file contains an executable file which demonstrates the apparent jitter of slow moving borders. (ZIP 10 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Arnold, D., Johnston, A. Motion-induced spatial conflict. Nature 425, 181–184 (2003).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing