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Perception of biological motion from size-invariant body representations
The visual recognition of action is one of the socially most important and computationally demanding capacities of the human visual system. It combines visual shape recognition with complex non-rigid motion perception. Action presented as a point-light animation is a striking visual experience for anyone who sees it for the first time. Information about the shape and posture of the human body is sparse in point-light animations, but it is essential for action recognition. In the posturo-temporal filter model of biological motion perception posture information is picked up by visual neurons tuned to the form of the human body before body motion is calculated. We tested whether point-light stimuli are processed through posture recognition of the human body form by using a typical feature of form recognition, namely size invariance. We constructed a point-light stimulus that can only be perceived through a size-invariant mechanism. This stimulus changes rapidly in size from one image to the next. It thus disrupts continuity of early visuo-spatial properties but maintains continuity of the body posture representation. Despite this massive manipulation at the visuo-spatial level, size-changing point-light figures are spontaneously recognized by naive observers, and support discrimination of human body motion.