Many behaviors rely on predictions derived from recent visual input, but the temporal evolution of those inputs is generally complex and difficult to extrapolate. We propose that the visual system transforms these inputs to follow straighter temporal trajectories. To test this ‘temporal straightening’ hypothesis, we develop a methodology for estimating the curvature of an internal trajectory from human perceptual judgments. We use this to test three distinct predictions: natural sequences that are highly curved in the space of pixel intensities should be substantially straighter perceptually; in contrast, artificial sequences that are straight in the intensity domain should be more curved perceptually; finally, naturalistic sequences that are straight in the intensity domain should be relatively less curved. Perceptual data validate all three predictions, as do population models of the early visual system, providing evidence that the visual system specifically straightens natural videos, offering a solution for tasks that rely on prediction.
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