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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 23;6(2):e14725. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014725.

The effect of looming and receding sounds on the perceived in-depth orientation of depth-ambiguous biological motion figures.

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Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, Department of Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.



The focus in the research on biological motion perception traditionally has been restricted to the visual modality. Recent neurophysiological and behavioural evidence, however, supports the idea that actions are not represented merely visually but rather audiovisually. The goal of the present study was to test whether the perceived in-depth orientation of depth-ambiguous point-light walkers (plws) is affected by the presentation of looming or receding sounds synchronized with the footsteps.


In Experiment 1 orthographic frontal/back projections of plws were presented either without sound or with sounds of which the intensity level was rising (looming), falling (receding) or stationary. Despite instructions to ignore the sounds and to only report the visually perceived in-depth orientation, plws accompanied with looming sounds were more often judged to be facing the viewer whereas plws paired with receding sounds were more often judged to be facing away from the viewer. To test whether the effects observed in Experiment 1 act at a perceptual level rather than at the decisional level, in Experiment 2 observers perceptually compared orthographic plws without sound or paired with either looming or receding sounds to plws without sound but with perspective cues making them objectively either facing towards or facing away from the viewer. Judging whether either an orthographic plw or a plw with looming (receding) perspective cues is visually most looming becomes harder (easier) when the orthographic plw is paired with looming sounds.


The present results suggest that looming and receding sounds alter the judgements of the in-depth orientation of depth-ambiguous point-light walkers. While looming sounds are demonstrated to act at a perceptual level and make plws look more looming, it remains a challenge for future research to clarify at what level in the processing hierarchy receding sounds affect how observers judge the in-depth perception of plws.

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