The human visual system is often referred to as being highly prepared to extract meaningful information from biological motion patterns. In the present study, the contrast effect on speed perception was analysed. Participants performed a test of speed judgment in which two simultaneous point-light walkers were animated at different translational speeds and contrasts in relation to the background. Standard translational biological motion was compared to rigid translational motion in Experiment 1 and to inverted biological motion in Experiment 2. Higher error rates, reaction times and greater vulnerability to contrast effects on speed perception were found for translational biological motion when compared to rigid motion. No significant differences were found, however, between standard and inverted stimuli. Experiment 3 was implemented in order to control the role of positional cues in speed judgment. The start and finish points of the trajectory were varied so that the faster and slower point-light walkers could finish the trial at a relatively more advanced or more withdrawn position. In spite of the variation of the start and finish points of the trajectories, the pattern of results was still consistent with the findings of Experiments 1 and 2. Participants seemed to perform factual speed judgments instead of using spatial cues as a form of reference or positional matching. Since the perception of biological patterns was more sensitive to contrast effects and not affected by familiarity, it is suggested that perception of biological and rigid motion may follow the same computational rules, at least for tasks involving translational patterns and speed judgment.
Contrast Effects; Visual perception; Motion