Skip to main content

Underestimation of large distances in active and passive locomotion


Our ability to estimate distances, be it verbally or by locomotion, is exquisite at close range (action space). At distances above 100 m (vista space), verbal estimates continue to be quite accurate, whereas locomotor estimates have been found to be grossly underestimated. Until now, however, the latter have been performed on a treadmill, which might not translate to real-world walking. We investigated if the motor underestimation found on the treadmill holds up in a natural environment. Observers viewed pictures of objects at distances between 10 and 245 m and were asked to reproduce these distances in a blindfolded walking task (using passive movement or an active production method). Active and passive locomotor judgments underestimated far distances above 100 m. We conclude that underestimation of large distances does not depend on the medium (treadmill vs. real-world) but rather on the sensory modality and effort involved in the task.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  • Andre J, Rogers S (2006) Using verbal and blind-walking distance estimates to investigate the two visual systems hypothesis. Perception Psychophys 68(3):353–361

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bach M (1996) The Freiburg visual acuity test—automatic measurement of visual acuity. Optom Vis Sci 73(1):49–53

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bergmann J, Krauß E, Münch A, Jungmann R, Oberfeld D, Hecht H (2011) Locomotor and verbal distance judgments in action and vista space. Exp Brain Res 210(1):13–23

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen J (1988) Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences, 2nd edn. L. Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale

    Google Scholar 

  • Daum SO, Hecht H (2009) Distance estimation in vista space. Atten Percept Psychophys 71(5):1127–1137

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gibson EJ, Bergman R (1954) The effect of training on absolute estimation of distance over the ground. J Exp Psychol 48(6):473

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gibson EJ, Bergman R, Purdy J (1955) The effect of prior training with a scale of distance on absolute and relative judgments of distance over ground. J Exp Psychol 50(2):97

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Grüsser O (1983) Multimodal structure of the extra personal space. In: Hein A, Jeannerod J (eds) Spatially oriented behavior. Springer, New York, pp 327–352

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • He ZJ, Wu B, Ooi TL, Yarbrough G, Wu J (2004) Judging egocentric distance on the ground: Occlusion and surface integration. Perception 33(7):789–806

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hochberg Y (1988) A sharper Bonferroni procedure for multiple tests of significance. Biometrika 75(4):800–802

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Iosa M, Fusco A, Morone G, Paolucci S (2012) Walking there: environmental influence on walking-distance estimation. Behav Brain Res 226(1):124–132

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Lappe M, Jenkin M, Harris LR (2007) Travel distance estimation from visual motion by leaky path integration. Exp Brain Res 180(1):35–48

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lappin JS, Shelton AL, Rieser JJ (2006) Environmental context influences visually perceived distance. Percep Psychophys 68(4):571–581

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loomis JM, Knapp JM (2003) Visual perception of egocentric distance in real and virtual environments. Virtual Adapt Environ 11:21–46

    Google Scholar 

  • Loomis JM, Da Silva JA, Fujita N, Fukusima SS (1992) Visual space perception and visually directed action. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 18(4):906

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Meng JC, Sedgwick HA (2002) Distance perception across spatial discontinuities. Percep Psychophys 64(1):1–14

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Philbeck JW, Loomis JM (1997) Comparison of two indicators of perceived egocentric distance under full-cue and reduced-cue conditions. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 23(1):72

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Proffitt DR, Stefanucci J, Banton T, Epstein W (2003) The role of effort in perceiving distance. Psychol Sci 14(2):106–112

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rieser JJ, Ashmead DH, Talor CR, Youngquist GA (1990) Visual perception and the guidance of locomotion without vision to previously seen targets. Perception 19(5):675–689

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Sadalla EK, Magel SG (1980) The perception of traversed distance. Environ Behav 12(1):65–79

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sinai MJ, Ooi TL, He ZJ (1998) Terrain influences the accurate judgement of distance. Nature 395(6701):497–500

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Trinkler I, Jarchow T (2000) Non visual reproduction of long distances. In: Bülthoff H, Fahle M, Gegenfurtner KR, Mallot HA (eds) Beiträge zur 3. Tübinger Wahrnehmungskonferenz. Knirsch-Verlag, Kirchentellinsfurt, p 140

    Google Scholar 

  • Witt JK, Proffitt DR, Epstein W (2004) Perceiving distance: a role of effort and intent. Perception 33(5):577–590

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank Agnes Münch for her support. CvC was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (German Research Foundation), grant “Innenraumwahrnehmung” [Grant numbers HE 2122/10-2 (Heiko Hecht) and OB 346/5-2 (Daniel Oberfeld)].

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christoph von Castell.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hecht, H., Ramdohr, M. & von Castell, C. Underestimation of large distances in active and passive locomotion. Exp Brain Res 236, 1603–1609 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: