Baseball's Sight-Audition Farness Effect (Safe) when umpiring baserunners: competing visual and auditory cues
In baseball, the difference between a win and loss can come down to a single call, such as when an umpire judges force outs at first base by typically comparing competing auditory and visual inputs of the ball-mitt sound and the foot-on-base sight. Yet, because the speed of sound in air only travels about 1100 feet per second, fans observing from several hundred feet away will receive auditory cues that are delayed a significant portion of a second, and thus conceivably could systematically differ in judgments compared to the nearby umpire. The current research examines two questions. 1. How reliably and with what biases do observers judge the order of visual versus auditory events? 2. Do observers making such order judgments from far away systematically compensate for delays due to the slow speed of sound? It is hypothesized that if any temporal bias occurs it is in the direction consistent with observers not accounting for the sound delay, such that increasing viewing distance will increase the bias to assume the sound occurred later. It was found that nearby observers are relatively accurate at judging if a sound occurred before or after a simple visual event (a flash), but exhibit a systematic bias to favor visual stimuli occurring first (by about 30 msec). In contrast, distant observers did not compensate for the delay of the speed of sound such that they systematically favored the visual cue occurring earlier as a function of viewing distance. When observers judged simple visual stimuli in motion relative to the same sound burst, the distance effect occurred as a function of the visual clarity of the ball arriving. In the baseball setting, using a large screen projection of baserunner, a diminished distance effect occurred due to the additional visual cues. In summary, observers generally do not account for the delay of sound due to distance.