Visual processing of 3D motion

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Psychology


Motion is a constant feature in our lives, whether it is our own self motion that we perceive as we walk around or that of other objects moving through our field of vision. We know a great deal about how the human brain processes motion in two dimensions, but very little about motion in the third dimension of depth.

This project is particularly focused on the perception of objects moving in three dimensions towards the observer. Objects directly approaching an observer deliver a rapid expansion on the retina; this source of 3D information is called looming. Looming objects have been reported to be able to capture attention and cause responses indicative of fear in a range of animals including humans. In primates, neurons exist in specialised motion areas of the brain that are thought to be specifically sensitive to looming.

However, we can also use depth information provided by binocular vision to perceive motion in depth, a cue called changing binocular disparity. Although there has been much interest in each of these two cues, both in terms of understanding basic brain computations, and their neural underpinnings, very little work has sought to understand how the two cues combine and whether separate or joint processing networks underlie their perception. This project will explore human brain sensitivity to the two cues, using behavioural, modelling, and brain imaging techniques. The project will allow us to better understand how we perceive motion in three dimensions and the mechanisms that allow us to process motion in depth as we go about our lives.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M010996/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1645201 Studentship BB/M010996/1 27/09/2015 30/09/2019 Abigail Rachael Lee
Description When an object moves towards you in the world, the image of that object on the retina of your eye expands at an accelerating rate. This is expansion of the image on the retina is called looming. We have found that it is harder to judge a change in speed of a looming object than which of two looming objects was travelling faster. We have also found that the acceleration present in the retinal image when an object approaches the eye does not affect our ability to make judgements about the speed of the 3D object.
Exploitation Route These are findings that may be taken forward by other motion perception researchers, but also in technology companies working on virtual or augmented reality and 3D films.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Other

Description European Amgen Scholars Alumni Travel Award
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation Amgen Foundation 
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2018
Description Explorathon 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In 2016, had an exhibit on seeing in 3D for Explorathon for European Researcher's Night in the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, along with researchers from many other research groups based at the University of St Andrews. In 2018 had a similar exhibit for the 2018 Explorathon event at Dundee Science Centre. Both were well attended events open to the General Public that involved Science-themed shows, demonstrations and exhibits.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2018
Description Speed Science for British Science Week (Aberdeen) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Similar to speed dating, but for talking about your research. Each researcher had roughly 2 minutes to explain their work to members of the public, before moving on.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description St Leonard's Postgraduate Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Lecture to postgraduate students and principle investigators from a range of different departments within the University of St Andrews. Sparked questions and discussion afterwards with people who do not usually engage with Psychology or Perception research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018