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Visual size perception and haptic calibration during development


Monica Gori, Robotics, Brain & Cognitive Sciences Department, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, via Morego 30, 16163 Genoa, Italy; e-mail:


It is still unclear how the visual system perceives accurately the size of objects at different distances. One suggestion, dating back to Berkeley’s famous essay, is that vision is calibrated by touch. If so, we may expect different mechanisms involved for near, reachable distances and far, unreachable distances. To study how the haptic system calibrates vision we measured size constancy in children (from 6 to 16 years of age) and adults, at various distances. At all ages, accuracy of the visual size perception changes with distance, and is almost veridical inside the haptic workspace, in agreement with the idea that the haptic system acts to calibrate visual size perception. Outside this space, systematic errors occurred, which varied with age. Adults tended to overestimate visual size of distant objects (over-compensation for distance), while children younger than 14 underestimated their size (under-compensation). At 16 years of age there seemed to be a transition point, with veridical perception of distant objects. When young subjects were allowed to touch the object inside the haptic workspace, the visual biases disappeared, while older subjects showed multisensory integration. All results are consistent with the idea that the haptic system can be used to calibrate visual size perception during development, more effectively within than outside the haptic workspace, and that the calibration mechanisms are different in children than in adults.