How visual perceptual grouping influences foot placement

John Fennell, Charlotte Goodwin, J Burn, Ute Leonards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
367 Downloads (Pure)


Everybody would agree that vision guides locomotion; but how does vision influence choice when there are different solutions for possible foot placement? We addressed this question by investigating the impact of perceptual grouping on foot placement in humans. Participants performed a stepping stone task in which pathways consisted of target stones in a spatially regular path of foot falls and visual distractor stones in their proximity. Target and distractor stones differed in shape and colour so that each subset of stones could be easily grouped perceptually. In half of the trials, one target stone swapped shape and colour with a distractor in its close proximity. We show that in these 'swapped' conditions, participants chose the perceptually groupable, instead of the spatially regular, stepping location in over 40% of trials, even if the distance between perceptually groupable steps was substantially larger than normal step width/length. This reveals that the existence of a pathway that could be traversed without spatial disruption to periodic stepping is not sufficient to guarantee participants will select it and suggests competition between different types of visual input when choosing foot placement. We propose that a bias in foot placement choice in favour of visual grouping exists as, in nature, sudden changes in visual characteristics of the ground increase the uncertainty for stability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 23/04/2015

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception


  • visual perceptual grouping
  • locomotion
  • precision stepping


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