The effect of locomotion on early visual contrast processing in humans

Alex Victoria Benjamin, Kirstie Holly Wailes-Newson, Anna Ma-Wyatt, Daniel Hart Baker, Alexander Robert Patrick Wade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most of our knowledge about vision comes from experiments in which stimuli are presented to immobile human subjects or animals. In the case of human subjects, movement during psychophysical, electrophysiological or neuroimaging experiments is considered to be a source of noise to be eliminated. Animals used in visual neuroscience experiments are typically restrained and, in many cases, anaesthetized.
In reality however, vision is often used to guide the motion of awake, ambulating organisms. Recent work in mice has shown that locomotion elevates visual neuronal response amplitudes (Erisken et al., 2014; Fu et al., 2014; Lee et al., 2014; Mineault et al., 2016; Niell and Stryker, 2010) and reduces long-range gain control (Ayaz et al., 2013). Here we use both psychophysics and steady-state electrophysiology to ask whether similar effects of locomotion on early visual processing can be measured in humans.

Our psychophysical results show that brisk walking has little effect on subjects’ ability to detect briefly-presented contrast changes and that co-oriented flankers are, if anything, more effective masks when subjects are walking. Our electrophysiological data were consistent with the psychophysics, indicating no increase in stimulus-driven neuronal responses whilst walking and no reduction in surround suppression.
In summary we find evidence that early contrast processing is altered by locomotion in humans but in a manner that differs from that reported in mice. The effects of locomotion on very low-level visual processing may differ on a species-by-species basis and may reflect important differences in the levels of arousal associated with locomotion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3050-3059
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018, Benjamin, Wailes-Newson et al.


  • arousal
  • gain control
  • locomotion
  • murine models
  • Locomotion
  • Murine models
  • Arousal
  • Gain control
  • Locomotion/physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult
  • Walking/physiology
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Contrast Sensitivity/physiology

Cite this