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Investigating the status of biological stimuli as objects of attention in multiple object tracking

de-Wit, L.H.; Lefevre, C.; Kentridge, R.W.; Rees, G.; Saygin, A.P.

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L.H. de-Wit

C. Lefevre

G. Rees

A.P. Saygin


Background: Humans are able to track multiple simultaneously moving objects. A number of factors have been identified that can influence the ease with which objects can be attended and tracked. Here, we explored the possibility that object tracking abilities may be specialized for tracking biological targets such as people. Methodology/Principal Findings: We used the Multiple Object Tracking (MOT) paradigm to explore whether the high-level biological status of the targets affects the efficiency of attentional selection and tracking. In Experiment 1, we assessed the tracking of point-light biological motion figures. As controls, we used either the same stimuli or point-light letters, presented in upright, inverted or scrambled configurations. While scrambling significantly affected performance for both letters and point-light figures, there was an effect of inversion restricted to biological motion, inverted figures being harder to track. In Experiment 2, we found that tracking performance was equivalent for natural point-light walkers and ‘moon-walkers’, whose implied direction was incongruent with their actual direction of motion. In Experiment 3, we found higher tracking accuracy for inverted faces compared with upright faces. Thus, there was a double dissociation between inversion effects for biological motion and faces, with no inversion effect for our non-biological stimuli (letters, houses). Conclusions/Significance: MOT is sensitive to some, but not all naturalistic aspects of biological stimuli. There does not appear to be a highly specialized role for tracking people. However, MOT appears constrained by principles of object segmentation and grouping, where effectively grouped, coherent objects, but not necessarily biological objects, are tracked most successfully.


de-Wit, L., Lefevre, C., Kentridge, R., Rees, G., & Saygin, A. (2011). Investigating the status of biological stimuli as objects of attention in multiple object tracking. PLoS ONE, 6(3), Article e16232.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 31, 2011
Deposit Date Feb 23, 2012
Publicly Available Date Mar 9, 2012
Journal PLoS ONE
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 3
Article Number e16232


Published Journal Article (209 Kb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
Copyright: © 2011 de-Wit et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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