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1 LPPA - Laboratoire de Physiologie de la Perception et de l-Action 2 Institute for Information Transmission Problems

Abstract : In order to bring new insights into the processing of 3D spatial information, we conducted experiments on the capacity of human subjects to memorize 3D-structured environments, such as buildings with several floors or the potentially complex 3D structure of an orbital space station. We had subjects move passively in one of two different exploration modes, through a visual virtual environment that consisted of a series of connected tunnels. In upright displacement, self-rotation when going around corners in the tunnels was limited to yaw rotations. For horizontal translations, subjects faced forward in the direction of motion. When moving up or down through vertical segments of the 3D tunnels, however, subjects facing the tunnel wall, remaining upright as if moving up and down in a glass elevator. In the unconstrained displacement mode, subjects would appear to climb or dive face-forward when moving vertically; thus, in this mode subjects could experience visual flow consistent with rotations about any of the 3 canonical axes. In a previous experiment, subjects were asked to determine whether a static, outside view of a test tunnel corresponded or not to the tunnel through which they had just passed. Results showed that performance was better on this task for the upright than for the unconstrained displacement mode; i.e. when subjects remained -upright- with respect to the virtual environment as defined by subject-s posture in the first segment. This effect suggests that gravity may provide a key reference frame used in the shift between egocentric and allocentric representations of the 3D virtual world. To check whether it is the polarizing effects of gravity that leads to the favoring of the upright displacement mode, the experimental paradigm was adapted for orbital flight and performed by cosmonauts onboard the International Space Station. For these flight experiments the previous recognition task was replaced by a computerized reconstruction task, which proved to be more efficient in terms of the time required to achieve reliable results. Suppressing gravity did not immediately affect relative performance between the two modes, indicating that on-line graviceptor information is not directly responsible for this differential effect. Trends in the evolution of responses over the course of a 10-day mission, however, suggest that human subjects might adapt their ability to represent internally complex 3D displacements.

Autor: Manuel Vidal - Mark Lipshits - Joseph Mcintyre - Alain Berthoz -



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