, Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 322-340
Date: 13 Nov 2012

Structure-from-motion: dissociating perception, neural persistence, and sensory memory of illusory depth and illusory rotation


In the structure-from-motion paradigm, physical motion on a screen produces the vivid illusion of an object rotating in depth. Here, we show how to dissociate illusory depth and illusory rotation in a structure-from-motion stimulus using a rotationally asymmetric shape and reversals of physical motion. Reversals of physical motion create a conflict between the original illusory states and the new physical motion: Either illusory depth remains constant and illusory rotation reverses, or illusory rotation stays the same and illusory depth reverses. When physical motion reverses after the interruption in presentation, we find that illusory rotation tends to remain constant for long blank durations (T blank ≥ 0.5 s), but illusory depth is stabilized if interruptions are short (T blank ≤ 0.1 s). The stability of illusory depth over brief interruptions is consistent with the effect of neural persistence. When this is curtailed using a mask, stability of ambiguous vision (for either illusory depth or illusory rotation) is disrupted. We also examined the selectivity of the neural persistence of illusory depth. We found that it relies on a static representation of an interpolated illusory object, since changes to low-level display properties had little detrimental effect. We discuss our findings with respect to other types of history dependence in multistable displays (sensory stabilization memory, neural fatigue, etc.). Our results suggest that when brief interruptions are used during the presentation of multistable displays, switches in perception are likely to rely on the same neural mechanisms as spontaneous switches, rather than switches due to the initial percept choice at the stimulus onset.