Biological motion

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Biological motion is a term used by social and cognitive neuroscientists to refer to the unique visual phenomenon of a moving, animate object. Often, the stimuli used in biological motion experiments are just a few moving dots that reflect the motion of some key joints of the moving organism. Gunnar Johansson invented these point light displays.[1]


Early work suggested that the brain may contain mechanisms specialised for the detection of other humans from motion signals, but over the years this claim has been scaled down to the point where some authors now suggest that we have more generalised detectors tuned simply to the characteristic signal generated by the feet of a locomoting animal.[2]


Perception of biological motion depends both on the motions of individual dots and the configuration/orientation of the body as a whole, as well as interactions between these local and global cues. Similar to the Thatcher Effect in face perception, inversion of individual points is easy to detect when the entire figure is presented normally, but difficult to detect when the entire display is presented upside-down.[3] However, recent electrophysiological work suggest that the configuration/orientation of the figure might be more important than the figure's motion, at least for early levels of processing [4]


The superior temporal sulcus is known to be activated for biological motion perception.[5] Also, premotor cortex is important, which indicates that the mirror neuron system is recruited for "filling in" the dots.[6]


In a large study with stroke patients, regions that emerged to be statistically associated with deficient biological motion perception included the superior temporal lobe sulcus and premotor cortex.[7] The cerebellum also is important.[8]

A recent study on a patient with developmental agnosia found intact biological motion, but deficient perception of non-biological form from motion [9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ G. Johansson (1973). "Visual perception of biological motion and a model for its analysis". Percept. Psychophys. 14 (2): 201–211. doi:10.3758/BF03212378. 
  2. ^ N . Troje , C . Westhoff (2006). "The Inversion Effect in Biological Motion Perception: Evidence for a "Life Detector"?". Current Biology 16 (8): 821–824. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.03.022. PMID 16631591. 
  3. ^ Mirenzi A, Hiris E, 2011, "The Thatcher effect in biological motion" Perception 40(10) 1257 – 1260
  4. ^ Buzzell, G; Chubb, L; Safford, A. S.; Thompson, J. C.; McDonald, C. G. (2013). "Speed of human biological form and motion processing". PLoS ONE 8 (7): e69396. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069396. PMC 3722264. PMID 23894467. 
  5. ^ Grossman, E., & Blake, R. (2002). Brain areas active during visual perception of biological motion. Neuron, 35, 1157-1165.
  6. ^ Saygin, A.P., Wilson, S.M., Hagler Jr., D.J., Bates, E., & Sereno, M.I. (2004) Point-light biological motion perception activates human premotor cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 24: 6181 - 6188.
  7. ^ Saygin, A. P. (2007). "Superior temporal and premotor brain areas necessary for biological motion perception". Brain : a journal of neurology 130 (Pt 9): 2452–2461. doi:10.1093/brain/awm162. PMID 17660183. 
  8. ^ Sokolov, A. A.; Gharabaghi, A.; Tatagiba, M. S.; Pavlova, M. (2009). "Cerebellar Engagement in an Action Observation Network". Cerebral Cortex 20 (2): 486–491. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhp117. PMID 19546157. 
  9. ^ Gilaie-Dotan, S.; Bentin, S.; Harel, M.; Rees, G.; Saygin, A. P. (2011). "Normal form from biological motion despite impaired ventral stream function". Neuropsychologia 49 (5): 1033–1043. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.01.009. PMC 3083513. PMID 21237181.