Perception of physical stability and center of mass of 3-D objects

Steven A. Cholewiak, Roland W. Fleming, Manish Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Humans can judge from vision alone whether an object is physically stable or not. Such judgments allow observers to predict the physical behavior of objects, and hence to guide their motor actions. We investigated the visual estimation of physical stability of 3-D objects (shown in stereoscopically viewed rendered scenes) and how it relates to visual estimates of their center of mass (COM). In Experiment 1, observers viewed an object near the edge of a table and adjusted its tilt to the perceived critical angle, i.e., the tilt angle at which the object was seen as equally likely to fall or return to its upright stable position. In Experiment 2, observers visually localized the COM of the same set of objects. In both experiments, observers' settings were compared to physical predictions based on the objects' geometry. In both tasks, deviations from physical predictions were, on average, relatively small. More detailed analyses of individual observers' settings in the two tasks, however, revealed mutual inconsistencies between observers' critical-angle and COM settings. The results suggest that observers did not use their COM estimates in a physically correct manner when making visual judgments of physical stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


  • 3-D shape
  • Center of mass
  • Critical angle
  • perceived object stability


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