Gaze behavior and the perception of egocentric distance
The ground plane is thought to be an important reference for localizing objects, particularly when angular declination is informative, as it is for objects seen resting at floor level. A potential role for eye movements has been implicated by the idea that information about the nearby ground is required to localize objects more distant, and by the fact that the time course for the extraction of distance extends beyond the duration of a typical eye fixation. To test this potential role, eye movements were monitored when participants previewed targets. Distance estimates were provided by walking without vision to the remembered target location (blind walking) or by verbal report. We found that a strategy of holding the gaze steady on the object was as frequent as one where the region between the observer and object was fixated. There was no performance advantage associated with making eye movements in an observational study (Experiment 1) or when an eye-movement strategy was manipulated experimentally (Experiment 2). Observers were extracting useful information covertly, however. In Experiments 3 through 5, obscuring the nearby ground plane had a modest impact on performance; obscuring the walls and ceiling was more detrimental. The results suggest that these alternate surfaces provide useful information when judging the distance to objects within indoor environments. Critically, they constrain the role for the nearby ground plane in theories of egocentric distance perception.