Spiral mechanisms are required to account for summation of complex motion components

Timothy S. Meese*, Stephen J. Anderson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stimuli from one family of complex motions are defined by their spiral pitch, where cardinal axes represent signed expansion and rotation. Intermediate spirals are represented by intermediate pitches. It is well established that vision contains mechanisms that sum over space and direction to detect these stimuli (Morrone et al., Nature 376 (1995) 507) and one possibility is that four cardinal mechanisms encode the entire family. We extended earlier work (Meese & Harris, Vision Research 41 (2001) 1901) using subthreshold summation of random dot kinematograms and a two-interval forced choice technique to investigate this possibility. In our main experiments, the spiral pitch of one component was fixed and that of another was varied in steps of 15° relative to the first. Regardless of whether the fixed component was aligned with cardinal axes or an intermediate spiral, summation to-coherence-threshold between the two components declined as a function of their difference in spiral pitch. Similar experiments showed that none of the following were critical design features or stimulus parameters for our results: superposition of signal dots, limited life-time dots, the presence of speed gradients, stimulus size or the number of dots. A simplex algorithm was used to fit models containing mechanisms spaced at a pitch of either 90° (cardinal model) or 45° (cardinal+model) and combined using a fourth-root summation rule. For both models, direction half-bandwidth was equated for all mechanisms and was the only free parameter. Only the cardinal+model could account for the full set of results. We conclude that the detection of complex motion in human vision requires both cardinal and spiral mechanisms with a half-bandwidth of approximately 46°. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1073-1080
Number of pages8
JournalVision Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2002


  • coherence thresholds
  • global motion
  • optic flow
  • random dots
  • vision


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