Cholewiak, S. A., Fleming, R. W., & Singh, M. (2013). Visual perception of the physical stability of asymmetric three-dimensional objects. Journal of Vision, 13(4), 1–13. doi: 10.1167/13.4.12
Here’s the abstract:
Visual estimation of object stability is an ecologically important judgment that allows observers to predict the physical behavior of objects. A natural method that has been used in previous work to measure perceived object stability is the estimation of perceived “critical angle”—the angle at which an object appears equally likely to fall over versus return to its upright stable position. For an asymmetric object, however, the critical angle is not a single value, but varies with the direction in which the object is tilted. The current study addressed two questions: (a) Can observers reliably track the change in critical angle as a function of tilt direction? (b) How do they visually estimate the overall stability of an object, given the different critical angles in various directions? To address these questions, we employed two experimental tasks using simple asymmetric 3D objects (skewed conical frustums): settings of critical angle in different directions relative to the intrinsic skew of the 3D object (Experiment 1), and stability matching across 3D objects with different shapes (Experiments 2 and 3). Our results showed that (a) observers can perceptually track the varying critical angle in different directions quite well; and (b) their estimates of overall object stability are strongly biased toward the minimum critical angle (i.e., the critical angle in the least stable direction). Moreover, the fact that observers can reliably match perceived object stability across 3D objects with different shapes suggests that perceived stability is likely to be represented along a single dimension.
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