Despite a noisy and ever-changing visual world, our perceptual experience seems remarkably stable over time. How does our visual system achieve this apparent stability? Here, we introduce a previously unknown visual illusion that shows direct evidence for an online mechanism continuously smoothing our percepts over time. As a result, a continuously seen physically changing object can be misperceived as unchanging. We find that online object appearance is captured by past visual experience up to 15 seconds ago. We propose that, because of an underlying active mechanism of serial dependence, the representation of the object is continuously merged over time, and the consequence is an illusory stability in which object appearance is biased toward the past. Our results provide a direct demonstration of the link between serial dependence in visual representations and perceived visual stability in everyday life.
We would like to thank M. Riga for help in data collection and processing. All experimental procedures were approved by and conducted in accordance with the guidelines and regulations of the UC Berkeley IRB. Participants provided informed consent in accordance with the IRB guidelines of UC Berkeley.
Funding: This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation fellowship P2ELP3_158876, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland RIG009850 (M.M.), and National Institutes of Health grant R01 CA236793 (D.W.).