Send to

Choose Destination
Curr Biol. 2012 Oct 9;22(19):R826-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.07.053.

Threat modulates perception of looming visual stimuli.

Author information

Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, UK.


Among the most critical of visual functions is the detection of potentially hazardous or threatening aspects of the environment. For example, objects on a collision course with an observer must be quickly identified to allow sufficient time to prepare appropriate defensive or avoidant responses. Directly approaching objects produce a specific accelerating pattern of optical expansion, known as 'looming, which in theory exactly specifies time-to-collision independent of object size or distance. Such looming stimuli have been shown to trigger stereotyped defensive responses in both monkeys [1] and human infants [2]. Psychophysical results in adult participants have similarly suggested sensitivity to looming at early stages of visual processing [3]. Such findings indicate specialization of the visual system to detect and react to such 'looming' stimuli, and have contributed to the traditional view of looming as a purely optical cue to imminent collision [1]. Here, we investigated whether the semantic content of a looming visual stimulus affects perceived time-to-collision by manipulating its threat value. We show that time-to-collision is underestimated for threatening (snakes and spiders) compared to non-threatening (butterflies and rabbits) stimuli. Further, the magnitude of this effect is correlated with self-reported fear. Our results demonstrate affective modulation of the perception of looming stimuli, and suggest that emotion shapes basic aspects of visual perception.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center