The uphill battle for action-specific perception

  • Emily L. Laitin
  • Michael J. Tymoski
  • Nathan L. Tenhundfeld
  • Jessica K. WittEmail author


The action-specific account of perception states that a perceiver’s ability to act influences the perception of the environment. For example, participants tend to perceive distances as farther when presented up hills than on the flat ground. This tendency is known as the distance-on-hill effect. However, there is debate as to whether these types of effects are truly perceptual. Critics of the action-specific account of perception claim that the effects could be due to participants guessing the hypothesis and trying to comply with the experimental demands. The present study aims to explore the distance-on-hill effect and determine whether it is truly perceptual or whether past results were due to response bias. Participants judged the relative distance to targets on a hill and the flat ground. We found the distance-on-hill effect in virtual reality using a visual matching task. The distance-on-hill effect persisted even when participants were given explicit feedback about their estimates. We also found that the effect went away, as predicted by a perceptual explanation, when participants had to match the distance between two cones that were both on hills. These results offer important steps toward the painstaking task of determining whether action’s effect on perception is truly perceptual.


Perception and action Scene Perception Embodied perception 


Author note

Data, scripts, and supplementary materials available at This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS-1632222 and BCS-1348916 to J.K.W.).


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Warfighter Effectiveness Research CenterUnited States Air Force AcademyUSAF AcademyUSA

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