This paper is freely available online:

Svarverud, E., Gilson, S.J. and Glennerster, A., (2012) A demonstration of 'broken' visual space. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e33782. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033782


There are press releases about this paper on the PLoS, Wellcome Trust and University of Reading websites.

It has long been assumed that there is a distorted mapping between real and 'perceived' space, based on demonstrations of systematic errors in judgements of slant, curvature, direction and separation. Here, we have applied a direct test to the notion of a coherent visual space. In an immersive virtual environment, participants judged the relative distance of two squares displayed in separate intervals. On some trials, the virtual scene expanded by a factor of four between intervals although, in line with recent results, participants did not report any noticeable change in the scene. We found that there was no consistent depth ordering of objects that can explain the distance matches participants made in this environment (e.g. A > B > D yet also A < C < D) and hence no single one-to-one mapping between participants' perceived space and any real 3D environment. Instead, factors that affect pairwise comparisons of distances dictate participants' performance. These data contradict, more directly than previous experiments, the idea that the visual system builds and uses a coherent internal 3D representation of a scene.

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