Visual processing delays alter the perceived spatial form of moving gratings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study shows that there are delays in processing high spatial frequencies relative to low frequencies, and that these may affect the perceived brightness profile of drifting waveforms. The stimuli were complex waveforms consisting of 2-3 sinusoidal components, either drifting or stationary. The phase of the components was varied until the brightness profile of the waveform appeared as a square, triangle, ramp or bar. The results indicate that stationary waveforms are perceived veridically, but drifting waveforms are not. The harmonics of a drifting complex wave must be phase advanced, relative to the fundamental, in order to cancel motion-induced waveform distortions. This suggests that during visual processing the harmonics must be phase delayed, indicating that they are being processed more slowly than the fundamental. The most significant delays appear to be those between the fundamental and its second and third harmonic. Furthermore, the results show that the magnitude of the delays is dependent on the phase relationship between the components at perceptually significant points in the waveform: delays are less when the components are in sine phase than when they are in cosine phase. Separate experiments show that the detectability of phase shifts is least when the components are in sine phase. Together, these results may explain why drifting "sharp-edged" stimuli are not perceptually distorted: the human visual system appears to be relatively insensitive to phase shifts around square-wave phase and may therefore tolerate differences in the processing times of certain harmonics. A discussion of the possible origin of these processing delays is presented, together with the hypothesis that frequency dependent delays may reflect the spatiotemporal inseparability of cortical visual units.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2733-46
Number of pages14
JournalVision Research
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1993


  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Mental Processes
  • Motion Perception
  • Optical Illusions
  • Space Perception


Dive into the research topics of 'Visual processing delays alter the perceived spatial form of moving gratings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this