As arboreal primates move through the jungle, they are immersed in visual motion that they must distinguish from the movement of predators and prey. We recorded dorsal medial superior temporal (MSTd) cortical neuronal responses to visual motion stimuli simulating self-movement and object motion. MSTd neurons encode the heading of simulated self-movement in three-dimensional (3-D) space. 3-D heading responses can be evoked either by the large patterns of visual motion in optic flow or by the visual object motion seen when an observer passes an earth-fixed landmark. Responses to naturalistically combined optic flow and object motion depend on their relative directions: an object moving as part of the optic flow field has little effect on neuronal responses. In contrast, an object moving separately from the optic flow field has large effects, decreasing the amplitude of the population response and shifting the population's heading estimate to match the direction of object motion as the object moves toward central vision. These effects parallel those seen in human heading perception with minimal effects of objects moving with the optic flow and substantial effects of objects violating the optic flow. We conclude that MSTd can contribute to navigation by supporting 3-D heading estimation, potentially switching from optic flow to object cues when a moving object passes in front of the observer.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience