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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2013 Dec;39(6):1638-51. doi: 10.1037/a0032070. Epub 2013 Mar 11.

Embodied memory: effective and stable perception by combining optic flow and image structure.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University.


Visual perception studies typically focus either on optic flow structure or image structure, but not on the combination and interaction of these two sources of information. Each offers unique strengths in contrast to the other's weaknesses. Optic flow yields intrinsically powerful information about 3D structure, but is ephemeral. It ceases when motion stops. Image structure is less powerful in specifying 3D structure, but is stable. It remains when motion stops. Optic flow and image structure are intrinsically related in vision because the optic flow carries one image to the next. This relation is especially important in the context of progressive occlusion, in which optic flow provides information about the location of targets hidden in subsequent image structure. In four experiments, we investigated the role of image structure in "embodied memory" in contrast to memory that is only in the head. We found that either optic flow (Experiment 1) or image structure (Experiment 2) alone were relatively ineffective, whereas the combination was effective and, in contrast to conditions requiring reliance on memory-in-the-head, much more stable over extended time (Experiments 2 through 4). Limits well documented for visual short memory (that is, memory-in-the-head) were strongly exceeded by embodied memory. The findings support J. J. Gibson's (1979/1986, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin) insights about progressive occlusion and the embodied nature of perception and memory.

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