By itself, the absolute distance of an object cannot be accurately judged beyond 2–3 m (refs 1–3). Yet, when it is viewed with reference to a flat terrain, humans accurately judge the absolute distance of the object up to 20 m, an ability that is important for various actions4,5,6,7,8. Here we provide evidence that this is accomplished by integrating local patches of ground information into a global surface reference frame. We first show that restricting an observer's visual field of view to the local ground area around the target leads to distance underestimation, indicating that a relatively wide expanse of the ground surface is required for accurate distance judgement. Second, as proof of surface integration, we show that even with the restricted view, the observer can accurately judge absolute distance by scanning local patches of the ground surface, bit by bit, from near to far, but not in the reverse direction. This finding also reveals that the surface integration process uses the near-ground-surface information as a foundation for surface representation, and extrapolation to the far ground surface around the target for accurate absolute distance computation.
Access optionsAccess options
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Gogel, W. C. & Tietz, J. D. A comparison of oculomotor and motion parallax cues of egocentric distance. Vision Res. 19, 1161–1170 (1979)
Philbeck, J. W. & Loomis, J. M. Comparison of two indicators of perceived egocentric distance under full-cue and reduced-cue conditions. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 23, 72–85 (1997)
Ooi, T. L., Wu, B. & He, Z. J. Distance determined by the angular declination below the horizon. Nature 414, 197–200 (2001)
Thomson, J. A. Is continuous visual monitoring necessary in visually guided locomotion? J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 9, 427–443 (1983)
Rieser, J. J., Ashmead, D., Talor, C. & Youngquist, G. Visual perception and the guidance of locomotion without vision to previously seen targets. Perception 19, 675–689 (1990)
Loomis, J., DaSilva, J., Fujita, N. & Fukusima, S. Visual space perception and visually directed action. J. Exp. Psychol. 18, 906–921 (1992)
Loomis, J., DaSilva, J., Philbeck, J. W. & Fukusima, S. Visual perception of location and distance. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 5, 72–77 (1996)
Sinai, M. J., Ooi, T. L. & He, Z. J. Terrain influences the accurate judgement of distance. Nature 395, 497–500 (1998)
Loomis, J. M. & Knapp, J. M. in Virtual and Adaptive Environments (eds Hettinger, L. J. & Hass, M. W.) 21–46 (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 2003)
Hagen, M. A., Jones, R. K. & Reed, E. S. On a neglected variable in theories of pictorial perception: Truncation of the visual field. Percept. Psychophys. 23, 326–330 (1978)
Dolezal, H. Living in a World Transformed: Perceptual and Performatory Adaptation to Visual Distortion (Academic, New York, 1982)
Loomis, J. M. & Philbeck, J. W. Is the anisotropy of perceived 3-D shape invariant across scale? Percept. Psychophys. 61, 397–402 (1999)
Loomis, J. M., Philbeck, J. W. & Zahorik, P. Dissociation of location and shape in visual space. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 28, 1202–1212 (2002)
Gibson, J. J. The Perception of the Visual World (Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts, 1950)
Gibson, J. J. The perception of visual surfaces. Am. J. Psychol. 63, 367–384 (1950)
Freeman, R. B. Jr Effect of size on visual slant. Psychol. Rev. 72, 501–504 (1956)
Braunstein, M. L. Motion and texture as sources of slant information. J. Exp. Psychol. 78, 247–253 (1968)
Gibson, J. J. & Cornsweet, J. The perceived slant of visual surfaces—optical and geographical. J. Exp. Psychol. 44, 11–15 (1952)
Sedgwick, H. A. in Handbook of Perception and Human Performance (eds Boff, K. R., Kaufman, L. & Thomas, J. P.) 21.1–21.57 (Willey, New York, 1986)
Meng, J. C. & Sedgwick, H. A. Distance perception mediated through nested contact relations among surface. Percept. Psychophys. 63, 1–15 (2001)
Land, M. F. Scanning eye movements in a heteropod mollusc. J. Exp. Biol. 96, 427–430 (1982)
Land, M. F. Motion and vision: why animals move their eyes. J. Comp. Physiol. A 185, 341–352 (1999)
This research was supported in part by a grant from NIH to Z.J.H. and T.L.O. and by a RIG grant from the University of Louisville to Z.J.H.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
About this article
Journal of Motor Behavior (2019)
Journal of Consumer Research (2019)
Philosophical Psychology (2019)
Survey on depth perception in head mounted displays: distance estimation in virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality
IET Image Processing (2019)
Relationship Between Auditory Context and Visual Distance Perception: Effect of Musical Expertise in the Ability to Translate Reverberation Cues Into Room-Size Perception