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PLoS One. 2010 Jan 7;5(1):e8258. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008258.

Characteristics of motor resonance predict the pattern of flash-lag effects for biological motion.

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Department of Psychology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom.



When a moving stimulus and a briefly flashed static stimulus are physically aligned in space the static stimulus is perceived as lagging behind the moving stimulus. This vastly replicated phenomenon is known as the Flash-Lag Effect (FLE). For the first time we employed biological motion as the moving stimulus, which is important for two reasons. Firstly, biological motion is processed by visual as well as somatosensory brain areas, which makes it a prime candidate for elucidating the interplay between the two systems with respect to the FLE. Secondly, discussions about the mechanisms of the FLE tend to recur to evolutionary arguments, while most studies employ highly artificial stimuli with constant velocities.


Since biological motion is ecologically valid it follows complex patterns with changing velocity. We therefore compared biological to symbolic motion with the same acceleration profile. Our results with 16 observers revealed a qualitatively different pattern for biological compared to symbolic motion and this pattern was predicted by the characteristics of motor resonance: The amount of anticipatory processing of perceived actions based on the induced perspective and agency modulated the FLE.


Our study provides first evidence for an FLE with non-linear motion in general and with biological motion in particular. Our results suggest that predictive coding within the sensorimotor system alone cannot explain the FLE. Our findings are compatible with visual prediction (Nijhawan, 2008) which assumes that extrapolated motion representations within the visual system generate the FLE. These representations are modulated by sudden visual input (e.g. offset signals) or by input from other systems (e.g. sensorimotor) that can boost or attenuate overshooting representations in accordance with biased neural competition (Desimone & Duncan, 1995).

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