Transparent Motion Perception as Detection of Unbalanced Motion Signals I: Psychophysics

Ning Qian, Richard A. Andersen and Edward H. Adelson

Published in
Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 14, pp. 7357-7366 (1994).
Our visual system can solve the difficult problem of representing multiple motions in the same part of the visual space, the motion transparency problem. We investigated the conditions under which transparent motion perception occurs through psychophysical observations, using a series of visual displays composed of two simple patterns moving in opposite directions. We found that whenever a display has finely balanced opposing motion signals in all local regions, it is perceptually non-transparent. The displays that appeared transparent always contain locally unbalanced motion signals, with some local regions having net motion signals in one direction and some other regions in the opposite direction. These interdigitating net motion signals in both directions appear to be integrated separately to form two overlapping transparent surfaces. Displays that were spatially balanced could be made perceptually transparent if the two components moving in opposite directions were at different stereo depth planes or had different spatial frequency contents. Our results can be explained by proposing a disparity and spatial frequency-specific suppression stage in the motion pathway, at which motion signals of different directions, but of the same disparity and spatial frequency contents, locally inhibit each other. Such a mechanism would suppress noise input to the motion system, which generally activates several direction channels simultaneously, and would still not eliminate activity evoked by transparent surfaces that are at different depths or have different textures.