When flow is not enough: evidence from a lane changing task

  • Xin XuEmail author
  • Guy Wallis
Original Article


Humans are able to estimate their heading on the basis of optic flow information and it has been argued that we use flow in this way to guide navigation. Consistent with this idea, several studies have reported good navigation performance in flow fields. However, one criticism of these studies is that they have generally focused on the task of walking or steering towards a target, offering an additional, salient directional cue. Hence, it remains a matter of debate as to whether humans are truly able to control steering in the presence of optic flow alone. In this study, we report a set of maneuvers carried out in flow fields in the absence of a physical target. To do this, we studied the everyday task of lane changing, a commonplace multiphase steering maneuver which can be conceptualized without the need for a target. What is more (and here is the crucial quirk), previous literature has found that in the absence of visual feedback, drivers show a systematic, asymmetric steering response, resulting in a systematic final heading error. If optic flow is sufficient for controlling navigation through our environment, we would expect this asymmetry to disappear whenever optic flow is provided. However, our results show that this asymmetry persisted, even in the presence of a flow field, implying that drivers are unable to use flow to guide normal steering responses in this task.



Author Xu Xin received fellowship from China Scholarship Council (201206410041). Author Guy Wallis received an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT100100020).


This study was funded by China Scholarship Council (201206410041) and Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT100100020).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Author Xin Xu declares that he has no conflict of interest. Author Guy Wallis declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the School of Human Movement Studies Ethics Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Sensorimotor Performance, School of Human Movement and Nutrition SciencesUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Intelligent Driving GroupBaidu Inc.BeijingChina

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