The present study investigated differences in the pickup of information about the size and location of an obstacle in the path of locomotion. The main hypothesis was that information about obstacle location is most useful when it is sampled at a specific time during the approach phase, whereas information about obstacle size can be sampled at any point during the last few steps. Subjects approached and stepped over obstacles in a virtual environment viewed through a head-mounted display. In Experiment 1, a horizontal line on the ground indicating obstacle location was visible throughout the trial while information about obstacle height and depth was available only while the subject was passing through a viewing window located at one of four locations along the subject's path. Subjects exhibited more cautious behavior when the obstacle did not become visible until they were within one step length, but walking behavior was at most weakly affected in the other viewing window conditions. In Experiment 2, the horizontal line indicating obstacle location was removed, such that no information about the obstacle (size or location) was available outside of the viewing window. Subjects adopted a more cautious strategy compared to Experiment 1 and differences between the viewing window conditions and the full vision control condition were observed across several measures. The differences in walking behavior and performance across the two experiments support the hypothesis that walkers have greater flexibility in when they can sample information about obstacle size compared to location. Such flexibility may impact gaze and locomotor control strategies, especially in more complex environments with multiple objects and obstacles.
Diaz, G., Parade, M., & Fajen, B. R. (2017). The Pickup of Visual Information about Size and Location during Approach to an Obstacle. PLoS ONE, Submitted.