Comparing biological motion in two distinct human societies

PLoS ONE 6 (12):e28391 (2011)
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Abstract
Cross cultural studies have played a pivotal role in elucidating the extent to which behavioral and mental characteristics depend on specific environmental influences. Surprisingly, little field research has been carried out on a fundamentally important perceptual ability, namely the perception of biological motion. In this report, we present details of studies carried out with the help of volunteers from the Mundurucu indigene, a group of people native to Amazonian territories in Brazil. We employed standard biological motion perception tasks inspired by over 30 years of laboratory research, in which observers attempt to decipher the walking direction of point-light (PL) humans and animals. Do our effortless skills at perceiving biological activity from PL animations, as revealed in laboratory settings, generalize to people who have never before seen representational depictions of human and animal activity? The results of our studies provide a clear answer to this important, previously unanswered question. Mundurucu observers readily perceived the coherent, global shape depicted in PL walkers, and experienced the classic inversion effects that are typically found when such stimuli are turned upside down. In addition, their performance was in accord with important recent findings in the literature, in the abundant ease with which they extracted direction information from local motion invariants alone. We conclude that the effortless, veridical perception of PL biological motion is a spontaneous and universal perceptual ability, occurring both inside and outside traditional laboratory environments.
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