When an observer moves forward in the environment, the image on his or her retina expands. The rate of this expansion conveys information about the observer's speed and the time to collision. Psychophysical and physiological studies have provided abundant evidence that these expansionary motions are processed by specialized mechanisms in mammalian visual systems. It is commonly assumed that the rate of expansion is estimated from the divergence of the optic-flow field (the two-dimensional field of local translational velocities). But this rate might also be estimated from changes in the size (or scale) of image features. To determine whether human vision uses such scale-change information, we have synthesized stochastic texture stimuli in which the scale of image elements increases gradually over time, while the optic-flow pattern is random. Here we show, using these stimuli, that observers can estimate expansion rates from scale-change information alone, and that pure scale changes can produce motion after-effects. These two findings suggest that the visual system contains mechanisms that are explicitly sensitive to changes in scale.
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