Temporal estimation with two moving objects: overt and covert pursuit

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Baurès, R ; Bennett, SJ ; Causer, J

The current study examined temporal estimation in a prediction motion task where participants were cued to overtly pursue one of two moving objects, which could either arrive first, i.e., shortest [time to contact (TTC)] or second (i.e., longest TTC) after a period of occlusion. Participants were instructed to estimate TTC of the first-arriving object only, thus making it necessary to overtly pursue the cued object while at the same time covertly pursuing the other (non-cued) object. A control (baseline) condition was also included in which participants had to estimate TTC of a single, overtly pursued object. Results showed that participants were able to estimate the arrival order of the two objects with very high accuracy irrespective of whether they had overtly or covertly pursued the first-arriving object. However, compared to the single-object baseline, participants’ temporal estimation of the covert object was impaired when it arrived 500 ms before the overtly pursued object. In terms of eye movements, participants exhibited significantly more switches in gaze location during occlusion from the cued to the non-cued object but only when the latter arrived first. Still, comparison of trials with and without a switch in gaze location when the non-cued object arrived first indicated no advantage for temporal estimation. Taken together, our results indicate that overt pursuit is sufficient but not necessary for accurate temporal estimation. Covert pursuit can enable representation of a moving object’s trajectory and thereby accurate temporal estimation providing the object moves close to the overt attentional focus.
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