Optic flow is used to control human walking

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Abstract

How is human locomotion visually controlled? Fifty years ago, it was proposed that we steer to a goal using optic flow, the pattern of motion at the eye that specifies the direction of locomotion. However, we might also simply walk in the perceived direction of a goal. These two hypotheses normally predict the same behavior, but we tested them in an immersive virtual environment by displacing the optic flow from the direction of walking, violating the laws of optics. We found that people walked in the visual direction of a lone target, but increasingly relied on optic flow as it was added to the display. The visual control law for steering toward a goal is a linear combination of these two variables weighted by the magnitude of flow, thereby allowing humans to have robust locomotor control under varying environmental conditions.

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Warren, J., Kay, B. A., Zosh, W. D., Duchon, A. P., & Sahuc, S. (2001). Optic flow is used to control human walking. Nature Neuroscience, 4(2), 213–216. https://doi.org/10.1038/84054

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