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
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