Moving cast shadows induce apparent motion in depth

Daniel Kersten, Pascal Mamassian, David C. Knill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Phenomenally strong visual illusions are described in which the motion of an object's cast shadow determines the perceived 3-D trajectory of the object. Simply adjusting the motion of a shadow is sufficient to induce dramatically different apparent trajectories of the object casting the shadow. Psychophysical results obtained with the use of 3-D graphics are reported which show that: (i) the information provided by the motion of an object's shadow overrides other strong sources of information and perceptual biases, such as the assumption of constant object size and a general viewpoint; (ii) the natural constraint of shadow darkness plays a role in the interpretation of a moving image patch as a shadow, but under some conditions even unnatural light shadows can induce apparent motion in depth of an object; (iii) when shadow motion is caused by a moving light source, the visual system incorrectly interprets the shadow motion as consistent with a moving object, rather than a moving light source. The results support the hypothesis that the human visual system incorporates a stationary light-source constraint in the perceptual processing of spatial layout of scenes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-192
Number of pages22
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997


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