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The science of instant replay: Slo-mo clips can alter a referee's perception

"The speed at which people move -- their gestures or walking pace -- carries important social cues about the meaning and intent behind their actions or their emotional state and temperament," said researcher George Mather.

By Brooks Hays
New research suggests slow-motion replays can alter a person's perception of speed and, in turn, a person's perception of a player's intent. This year, Football Association refs and officials will review footage to determine whether a player was guilty of "diving." Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
New research suggests slow-motion replays can alter a person's perception of speed and, in turn, a person's perception of a player's intent. This year, Football Association refs and officials will review footage to determine whether a player was guilty of "diving." Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) -- New research suggests a referee's perception of speed can be easily manipulated or thrown off kilter.

When vision science researchers at the University of Lincoln, in England, had study participants watch slow-motion video clips, the viewers had to have clips played-back in real time sped up to appear "normal."

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Scientists measured the opposite effect when viewers watched sped-up clips, suggesting perception of speed is influenced by prior experience.

Researchers found viewers of European football game and auto race footage, either artificially sped-up and slowed-down, began to absorb the visuals as normal -- perceiving the pace as unaltered.

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The brain is constantly adjusting to changes in visual stimulation, adapting to new conditions. The adjustment isn't immediate, however.

The phenomenon can prove dangerous on roadways. A driver coming off a highway exit onto a smaller road with slower speed limit may perceive faster speeds as normal, encouraging the driver to travel faster than the posted speed limit.

Faulty perceptions of speed could have a variety of social consequences, researchers argue.

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"The speed at which people move -- their gestures or walking pace -- carries important social cues about the meaning and intent behind their actions or their emotional state and temperament," George Mather, a professor of vision science at Lincoln, said in a news release. "Eyebrows, for instance, can say a great deal. A rapid flick is a common form of greeting, while a slow rise and fall can indicate surprise or fear, and the speed at which a person walks is slower when that person is feeling sad rather than happy."

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The new research -- detailed this week in the journal Scientific Reports -- may also be relevant to referees working for England's Football Association. This year, the FA will review some fouls to determine whether a player simulated a foul in order to deceive the ref.

"If these reviews involve repeated viewing of slow-motion replays, the findings may well be affected due to the 'adaptation effect' we reported," Mather said.

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