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The role of vergence in the perception of distance: a fair test of Bishop Berkeley's claim

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

Binocular eye movements were measured while subjects perceived the wallpaper illusion in order to test the claim made by Bishop Berkeley in 1709 that we perceive the distance of nearby objects by evaluating the vergence angles of our eyes. Four subjects looked through a nearby frontoparallel array of vertical rods (28-35 cm away) as they binocularly fixated a point about 1 meter away. The wallpaper illusion was perceived under these conditions, i.e. the rods appeared farther away than their physical location. We found that although binocular fixation at an appropriate distance was needed to begin perceiving the wallpaper illusion (at least for naive observers), once established, the illusion was quite robust in the sense that it was not affected by changing vergence. No connection between the apparent localization of the rods and vergence was observed. We conclude that it is unlikely that vergence, itself, is responsible for the perceived distance shift in the wallpaper illusion, making it unlikely that vergence contributes to the perception of distance as Bishop Berkeley suggested. We found this to be true even when vergence angles were relatively large (more than 2 deg), the region in which the control of vergence eye movements has been shown to be both fast and effective.

Affiliations: 1: School of Psychology, Queen's University, Belfast, BT9 5BP,UK; 2: Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 94305-4115, USA; 3: Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-4411, USA


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