Implicit change detection demonstrates how the visual system can benefit from stored information that is not immediately available to conscious awareness. We investigated the role of motor action in this context. In the first two experiments, using a one-shot implicit change-detection paradigm, participants responded to unperceived changes either with an action (jabbing the screen at the guessed location of a change) or with words (verbal report), and sat either 60 cm or 300 cm (with a laser pointer) away from the display. Our observers guessed the locations of changes at a reachable distance better with an action than with a verbal judgment. At 300 cm, beyond reach, the motor advantage disappeared. In experiment 3, this advantage was also unavailable when participants sat at a reachable distance but responded with hand-held laser pointers near their bodies. We conclude that a motor system specialized for real-time visually guided behavior has access to additional visual information. Importantly, this system is not activated by merely executing an action (experiment 2) or presenting stimuli in one's near space (experiment 3). It is activated only when both conditions are fulfilled, which implies that it is the actual contact that matters to the visual system.
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