The accurate perception of human crowds is integral to social understanding and interaction. Previous studies have shown that observers are sensitive to several crowd characteristics such as average facial expression, gender, identity, joint attention, and heading direction. In two experiments, we examined ensemble perception of crowd speed using standard point-light walkers (PLW). Participants were asked to estimate the average speed of a crowd consisting of 12 figures moving at different speeds. In Experiment 1, trials of intact PLWs alternate ith trials of scrambled PLWs with a viewing duration of 3 seconds. We found that ensemble processing of crowd speed could rely on local motion alone, although a globally intact configuration enhanced performance. In Experiment 2, observers estimated the average speed of intact-PLW crowds that were displayed at reduced viewing durations across five blocks of trials (between 2500 ms and 500 ms). Estimation of fast crowds was precise and accurate regardless of viewing duration, and we estimated that three to four walkers could still be integrated at 500 ms. For slow crowds, we found a systematic deterioration in performance as viewing time reduced, and performance at 500 ms could not be distinguished from a single-walker response strategy. Overall, our results suggest that rapid and accurate ensemble perception of crowd speed is possible, although sensitive to the precise speed range examined.
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