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PLoS One. 2010 Oct 13;5(10):e13296. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013296.

Transitions between central and peripheral vision create spatial/temporal distortions: a hypothesis concerning the perceived break of the curveball.

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Department of Psychology, American University, Washington, DC, United States of America.



The human visual system does not treat all parts of an image equally: the central segments of an image, which fall on the fovea, are processed with a higher resolution than the segments that fall in the visual periphery. Even though the differences between foveal and peripheral resolution are large, these differences do not usually disrupt our perception of seamless visual space. Here we examine a motion stimulus in which the shift from foveal to peripheral viewing creates a dramatic spatial/temporal discontinuity.


The stimulus consists of a descending disk (global motion) with an internal moving grating (local motion). When observers view the disk centrally, they perceive both global and local motion (i.e., observers see the disk's vertical descent and the internal spinning). When observers view the disk peripherally, the internal portion appears stationary, and the disk appears to descend at an angle. The angle of perceived descent increases as the observer views the stimulus from further in the periphery. We examine the first- and second-order information content in the display with the use of a three-dimensional Fourier analysis and show how our results can be used to describe perceived spatial/temporal discontinuities in real-world situations.


The perceived shift of the disk's direction in the periphery is consistent with a model in which foveal processing separates first- and second-order motion information while peripheral processing integrates first- and second-order motion information. We argue that the perceived distortion may influence real-world visual observations. To this end, we present a hypothesis and analysis of the perception of the curveball and rising fastball in the sport of baseball. The curveball is a physically measurable phenomenon: the imbalance of forces created by the ball's spin causes the ball to deviate from a straight line and to follow a smooth parabolic path. However, the curveball is also a perceptual puzzle because batters often report that the flight of the ball undergoes a dramatic and nearly discontinuous shift in position as the ball nears home plate. We suggest that the perception of a discontinuous shift in position results from differences between foveal and peripheral processing.

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