Illusory Movement of Stationary Stimuli in the Visual Periphery: Evidence for a Strong Centrifugal Prior in Motion Processing
Visual input is remarkably diverse. Certain sensory inputs are more probable than others, mirroring statistical regularities of the visual environment. The visual system exploits many of these regularities, resulting, on average, in better inferences about visual stimuli. However, by incorporating prior knowledge into perceptual decisions, visual processing can also result in perceptions that do not match sensory inputs. Such perceptual biases can often reveal unique insights into underlying mechanisms and computations. For example, a prior assumption that objects move slowly can explain a wide range of motion phenomena. The prior on slow speed is usually rationalized by its match with visual input, which typically includes stationary or slow moving objects. However, this only holds for foveal and parafoveal stimulation. The visual periphery tends to be exposed to faster motions, which are biased toward centrifugal directions. Thus, if prior assumptions derive from experience, peripheral motion processing should be biased toward centrifugal speeds. Here, in experiments with human participants, we support this hypothesis and report a novel visual illusion where stationary objects in the visual periphery are perceived as moving centrifugally, while objects moving as fast as 7°/s toward fovea are perceived as stationary. These behavioral results were quantitatively explained by a Bayesian observer that has a strong centrifugal prior. This prior is consistent with both the prevalence of centrifugal motions in the visual periphery and a centrifugal bias of direction tuning in cortical area MT, supporting the notion that visual processing mirrors its input statistics.