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Stefanucci, J., Proffitt, D., Banton, T., & Epstein, W. (2005). Distances appear different on hills. Perception & Psychophysics, 67(6), 1052-1060.

When walking effort is increased due to manipulations such as wearing heavy backpacks, people perceive hills to be steeper and distances to be farther (Bhalla & Proffitt, 1999; Proffitt, Stefanucci, Banton, & Epstein, 2003). On the basis of these findings, we expected people to overestimate distances on steep hills relative to the same distances on flat ground, because of the increased effort required to ascend or descend them. This hypothesis is in contrast to the belief that distances are specified solely by optical and oculomotor information related to the geometry of the environment. To test the hypothesis, we investigated distance estimation on hills and flat terrains in natural and virtual environments. We found that participants judged steep uphill and downhill distances to be farther than the same distances on flat terrain. These results are inconsistent with the idea that spatial layout is perceived solely in terms of geometry, lending partial support to an effort hypothesis.

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