Sources of uncertainty in intuitive physics


Recent work suggests that people predict how objects interact in a manner consistent with Newtonian physics, but with additional uncertainty. However, the sources of uncertainty have not been examined. Here we measure perceptual noise in initial conditions and stochasticity in the physical model used to make predictions. Participants predicted the trajectory of a moving object through occluded motion and bounces, and we compared their behavior to an ideal observer model. We found that human judgments cannot be captured by simple heuristics, and must incorporate noisy dynamics. Moreover, these judgments are biased in a way consistent with a prior expectation on object destinations, suggesting that people use simple expectations about outcomes to compensate for uncertainty about their physical models.

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