Detecting the Perception of Illusory Spatial Boundaries: Evidence From Distance Judgment

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Spatial boundaries demarcate everything from the lanes in our roadways to the borders between our countries. They are fundamental to object perception, spatial navigation, spatial memory, spatial judgments, and the coordination of our actions. Although explicit spatial boundaries formed by physical structures comprise many of the actual boundaries we encounter, implicit and permeable spatial boundaries are pervasive. The prevailing paradigm for detecting implicit spatial boundaries relies on memory-based distance and location judgments. One possibility is that these biases in spatial memory may be attributable to initial biases in spatial perception, but the extent to which implicit spatial boundaries bias spatial perception remains unknown. An approach for detecting the perception of implicit spatial boundaries would be to infer it through known systematic biases in memory-based distance judgments. We harnessed known biases in memory-based distance judgments to infer perception of spatial boundaries by probing the extent to which distances were overestimated across potential spatial boundaries. Results suggest that participants perceived potential spatial boundaries as illusory spatial boundaries leading to biased judgments of distance. A control group eliminated simple two-dimensional distance cues as responsible for this bias. This bias provides a novel method to detect the perception of illusory spatial boundaries.