Causal inference during closed-loop navigation: Parsing of self- and object-motion

Jean Paul Noel, Johannes Bill, Haoran Ding, John Vastola, Gregory C. Deangelis, Dora E. Angelaki, Jan Drugowitsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A key computation in building adaptive internal models of the external world is to ascribe sensory signals to their likely cause(s), a process of causal inference (CI). CI is well studied within the framework of two-alternative forced-choice tasks, but less well understood within the cadre of naturalistic action-perception loops. Here, we examine the process of disambiguating retinal motion caused by self- and/or object-motion during closed-loop navigation. First, we derive a normative account specifying how observers ought to intercept hidden and moving targets given their belief about (i) whether retinal motion was caused by the target moving, and (ii) if so, with what velocity. Next, in line with the modelling results, we show that humans report targets as stationary and steer towards their initial rather than final position more often when they are themselves moving, suggesting a putative misattribution of object-motion to the self. Further, we predict that observers should misattribute retinal motion more often: (i) during passive rather than active self-motion (given the lack of an efference copy informing self-motion estimates in the former), and (ii) when targets are presented eccentrically rather than centrally (given that lateral self-motion flow vectors are larger at eccentric locations during forward self-motion). Results support both of these predictions. Lastly, analysis of eye movements show that, while initial saccades toward targets were largely accurate regardless of the self-motion condition, subsequent gaze pursuit was modulated by target velocity during object-only motion, but not during concurrent object- and self-motion. These results demonstrate CI within action-perception loops, and suggest a protracted temporal unfolding of the computations characterizing CI. This article is part of the theme issue 'Decision and control processes in multisensory perception'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220344
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1886
StatePublished - Sep 25 2023


  • active sensing
  • eye movements
  • naturalistic
  • saccades
  • self-motion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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