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Human perception changes along with our walking rhythm

Neuroscientists found a link between our walking rhythm and how we see the world. This insight enhances understanding of human perception and suggests new research paths into movement’s impact on visual processing.

This research, conducted by Dr. Matthew Davidson and his team from the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology reveals that our brain processes what we see in a cyclical pattern. This pattern reflects our footsteps’ rhythm, indicating our perception and reaction abilities fluctuate as we move.

How we move and how we see

Interestingly, Dr. Davidson explains, “Our findings demonstrate a previously unrecognized link between how we move and how we see. This discovery bridges a major gap in experimental psychology, illuminating the natural connection between perception and movement in our daily lives.

The study confirms our brains sample the visual environment from our walking rhythm in a strobe-like manner, piecing together snapshots for continuous experience.

However, these snapshots undergo significant shifts during movement. As we walk, our visual perception and reaction speeds vary, peaking with leg swings and dipping at footfall.

However, Dr. Davidson draws an analogy, saying, “Though we experience a smooth visual flow, underneath lies intense activity, much like a duck’s hidden paddling.”

Synchronizing vision and walking rhythm

This research expands on prior findings, revealing our perception of vision and sound cycles about eight times per second. However, this study uniquely focuses on how these cycles synchronize with our walking rhythm, adjusting to our step pace.

“Remarkably,” Professor David Alais adds, “we found brain activity and perception cycles slow to about two per second, syncing with human step rates.”

The team used VR headsets and motion tracking to monitor 45 participants in a virtual space. This tech enabled continuous visual perception sampling during movement, identifying “good” and “bad” vision phases per step.

Exploring the mysteries of movement and perception

The intricate link between our perceptual processes and walking rhythm remains a mystery, though the researchers propose an intriguing hypothesis.

“It’s possible that during the footfall, when planning the next step, the brain prioritizes motor control over visual processing. Then, as the foot lifts, it switches focus back to perceiving the world, creating a perceptual rhythm that harmonizes with our steps,” suggests Professor Alais.

This discovery provides insights into the fundamental workings of the human brain by suggesting potential applications in diagnosing and understanding neuro-muscular disorders, psychiatric conditions, and even enhancing athletic performance through optimized decision-making and reaction times.

Dr. Davidson points out the implications of their findings for future research, especially in understanding how aging affects our perceptual cycles and exploring the potential for new diagnostic tools using VR technology.

Understanding perceptual continuity and walking rhythm

Professor Frans Verstraten reflects on the seamless integration of perceptions despite the brain’s rhythmic sampling. “Once a topic for philosophers, neuroscience is now unveiling how the brain’s predictive abilities construct a continuous world perception by filling in gaps.”

In conclusion, by employing VR to monitor participants’ reactions to visual stimuli while walking, the researchers have significantly advanced our understanding of how the rhythm of our movement influences perception.

This study challenges our grasp of the brain’s perceptual processes and paves the way for future explorations into our interaction with and perception of the environment.

The full study was published in the journal Nature Communications.


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