Wholes and subparts in visual processing of human agency

Peter Neri*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


The human visual system is remarkably sensitive to stimuli conveying actions, for example the fighting action between two agents. A central unresolved question is whether each agent is processed as a whole in one stage, or as subparts (e. g. limbs) that are assembled into an agent at a later stage. We measured the perceptual impact of perturbing an agent either by scrambling individual limbs while leaving the relationship between limbs unaffected or conversely by scrambling the relationship between limbs while leaving individual limbs unaffected. Our measurements differed for the two conditions, providing conclusive evidence against a one-stage model. The results were instead consistent with a two-stage processing pathway: an early bottom-up stage where local motion signals are integrated to reconstruct individual limbs (arms and legs), and a subsequent top-down stage where limbs are combined to represent whole agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-869
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1658
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2009


  • faces
  • biological motion
  • biological motion perception
  • movements
  • parts
  • model
  • inversion
  • discrimination
  • form
  • recognition
  • inversion effect
  • recognition-by-parts
  • mechanisms


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