Perceptual errors in predicting vehicle approach in typical and atypical populations

Catherine Purcell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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As a pedestrian at the roadside, the two most informative cues as to the distance and rate of closure of a vehicle are its optical size and the rate of expansion of the optical image. In addition, the time to arrival of an approaching vehicle can be perceptually estimated by the ratio of these two variables, referred to as tau (Lee, 1976). Sensitivity to optic expansion is critical for collision avoidance and was measured in populations of adults, typically developing children, and in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), an idiopathic condition characterised by marked impairments in motor coordination that negatively impact on activities of daily living.

A central tendency was found in adults (n = 193) between 18 to 59 years of age to make significant errors in judging the approach rates of two vehicles. Inflated errors were observed in children (n = 136) between 6 to 17 years of age, with decreased sensitivity in the youngest age group (6 to 11 years). Furthermore, a significant decrement was found in children (n = 9) with DCD between 6 to 11 years of age. Across all groups, a systematic vehicle size bias was found, whereby faster small vehicles were perceived as travelling slower than larger vehicles. This pattern of results suggest that in general, observers are not utilising tau in judgments of relative approach rates for speeds typically encountered at the roadside, but instead rely on optical expansion that does not compensate for image size. Errors due to a reliance on optic size were inflated in children with DCD, potentially placing them at significantly greater risk at the roadside.

To examine the decreased sensitivity observed in DCD, thresholds for detecting visual looming were measured in children (n = 11) with DCD between 6 to 11 years of age. A significant deficit was found when vehicles were presented in perifoveal vision, whereby children with DCD may perceive vehicles that are 5 seconds away as stationary if they are travelling any faster than ~14 mph. This demonstration of a low-level visual processing deficit could suggest an immaturity in the dorsal stream network and explain some of the difficulties that characterise DCD.

Critically, perceptual judgments at the roadside are inextricably linked to the motoric capability of the observer. If a pedestrians crossing time is greater than the time available, collision will occur. Crossing gap thresholds were measured and compared to walking times for a single vehicle approaching at varying speeds. Children (n = 9) with DCD between 6 to 11 years of age left considerably longer temporal crossing gaps than their action capabilities necessitated. However, when children with DCD were presented with multiple vehicles in a virtual reality environment, they accepted crossing gaps at all approach speeds that were shorter than the time it would take them to cross. This suggests that children with DCD may not have the perceptual accuracy to predict their required action gaps in a road crossing situation.

One explanation for these findings could be a difference in DCD in how vision is dynamically allocated to facilitate the preparation of goal-directed actions. Dynamic allocation of visual attention was assessed in a series of experiments that measured eye movement latencies and hand movement accuracy in children (n = 5) with DCD between 6 to 11 years of age. Both measures were found to be comparable in DCD with their typically developing peers regardless of task complexity, indicating that the allocation of visual attention is not deficient in children with DCD.

The prospective control of movement in our everyday lives is critically depended on estimating the immediacy of approaching objects. Combined, these results indicate that children with DCD may be particularly vulnerable at the roadside due to a visual motion processing deficit, consistent with atypical function across broad neural structures such as the dorsal stream.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Wann, John, Supervisor
  • Wilmut, Kate, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Jul 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 12 Jun 2012


  • Perception-action relationship
  • Road Crossing
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • DCD IX

    Catherine Purcell (Participant)

    24 Jun 2011

    Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference

  • Vision Sciences Society

    Catherine Purcell (Participant)

    10 May 2011

    Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference

  • DCD Research and Handwriting Conference

    Catherine Purcell (Speaker)

    7 Jul 2010

    Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference

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