While many aspects of human vision at low light levels have been studied in great detail, motion perception has rarely been investigated so far. Here we address differential effects of light level on the perception of coherent motion, heading from radial flow, and biological motion. We determined detection thresholds under photopic, mesopic, and scotopic conditions. Results indicate that the perception of specific motion types differs in vulnerability to changes in light level. Thresholds for coherent motion and heading from radial flow increased monotonically from photopic to mesopic and scotopic light levels. We suppose that observed deficits are due to temporal pooling under rod-dominated vision. In contrast, detection thresholds for biological motion, which is distinguished by temporal dynamics and a specific spatial distribution of nearby signals, were exclusively elevated under mesopic conditions. Thresholds under scotopic conditions matched those under photopic conditions. Selective constraints under mesopic conditions might be explained by a detrimental interaction of rod and cone vision as well as by activity of different rod pathways. Findings suggest that very early retinal signal processing can have complex effects on the perception of different motion types, which is generally considered to rely on cortical areas.
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