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Exp Brain Res. 2002 Nov;147(2):135-44. Epub 2002 Sep 28.

Illusions in action: consequences of inconsistent processing of spatial attributes.

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  • 1Afdeling Neurowetenschappen, Erasmus MC, Postbus 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. smeets@fys.fgg.eur.nl


Many authors have performed experiments in which subjects grasp objects in illusory surroundings. The vast majority of these studies report that illusions affect the maximum grip aperture less than they affect the perceived size. This observation has frequently been regarded as experimental evidence for separate visual systems for perception and action. In order to make this conclusion, one assumes that the grip aperture is based on a visual estimate of the object's size. We believe that it is not, and that this is why size illusions fail to influence grip aperture. Illusions generally do not affect all aspects of space perception in a consistent way, but mainly affect the perception of specific spatial attributes. This applies not only to object size, but also to other spatial attributes such as position, orientation, displacement, speed, and direction of motion. Whether an illusion influences the execution of a task will therefore depend on which spatial attributes are used rather than on whether the task is perceptual or motor. To evaluate whether illusions affect actions when they influence the relevant spatial attributes we review experimental results on various tasks with inconsistent spatial processing in mind. Doing so shows that many actions are susceptible to visual illusions. We argue that the frequently reported differential effect of illusions on perceptual judgements and goal-directed action is caused by failures to ensure that the same spatial attributes are used in the two tasks. Illusions only affect those aspects of a task that are based on the spatial attributes that are affected by the illusion.

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