What Factors Affect Distance Perception?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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Visual interpretation often depends on how the distance between objects is perceived. Distance perception is the capacity to understand that some objects may be farther away from others, even when they are different sizes and at oriented at various angles. It can be affected by many things, including visual problems, past falls, fear of heights, and the distance cues often seen in photographs. The perception of distance can be learned through experience. Objects that overlap others in a scene, for example, are typically closer, while those of the same size often appear smaller the further away they are.

Humans can see in many colors and over a wide field of view; and also have stereoscopic binocular vision, with both eyes fixed on an area. Characteristics such as the wrapping around of an object in three dimensions, and the muscle structure enabling the eyes to adjust to distance, typically help with visual perception. People with low vision, blindness in one eye, or other visual problems can struggle with distance perception, but often learn to judge by focusing on certain cues. Sometimes it is possible to drive even if a person has a serious visual condition.


Objects that extend into a distance are generally smaller or narrower at the further end. Angles, lighting, and sizes of objects in relation to others can affect distance perception, especially when one knows how these aspects work. Other types of perception include the ability to see depth. One characteristic of how people see is that binocular vision is required for depth perception. It is typically used to estimate the distance of things that are directly ahead.

Distance perception is sometimes analyzed as part of evolutionary theory. The fear of heights can be influenced by a person’s past experience with falls, or by his or her perception of the distance to the ground. A concept called evolved navigation theory generally says that people and animals tend to overestimate distance because it is often more beneficial to travel a shorter path. The tendency to prefer a lesser distance and perceive something as farther than it is can translate into fear.

Features of images that can affect distance perception include varying building sizes, ripples on water, and the color and brightness of objects. Things that are further away typically move at a slower relative speed from those that are closer. Distance perception can therefore be impacted by the motion of distant objects and the speed of the observer.


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Post 3

I have astigmatism and I have trouble with this sometimes. It has so happened a few times that I placed my glass on the tip of the table only to see it fall off. I sometimes see things just a tiny bit closer than they are, or sometimes a bit to the right or left.

Post 2

I was watching a program on history and art on TV the other day. They were showing paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries.

What was so fascinating about one painting was the strange distance perception of the painter. Normally, in paintings, things that are farther away are painted smaller and things closer are painted larger. But this painter, whose name I can't remember, did exactly the opposite. He made objects far away larger and objects that were near smaller.

It was either due to the misconceptions or lack of understanding of distance perception in that time period, or the painter himself had an issue with his vision and distance perception.

Post 1

Chemicals like drugs and alcohol and even fatigue can affect distance perception. That's why people are not supposed to drive when they've had alcohol or when they're on medications affecting their motor control.

Drivers under the influence of alcohol will actually have trouble telling distance. So they won't be able to make sound judgment about how far away a car truly is. That's why accidents are very likely if a driver has had alcohol. People think that they are doing just fine and the next thing they know, they've hit the car in front of them.

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