The contribution of otoliths and semicircular canals to the perception of two-dimensional passive whole-body motion in humans

Y. P. Ivanenko, R. Grasso, I. Israël, A. Berthoz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. Perception of two-dimensional (2-D) whole-body passive motion in the horizontal plane was studied in twelve blindfolded healthy volunteers: pure rotation in place (180 deg), linear motion (4.5 m) and a semicircular trajectory (radius, 1.5 m; angular acceleration, 0.2 rad s-2) were applied in random sequence by means of a remote-controlled robot equipped with a racing-car seat. The seat orientation in the horizontal plane was controlled by the experimenter, independent of the robot trajectory. Thus different degrees of otolith-canal interaction were obtained. The maximal linear acceleration during the semicircular trajectory was 0.1 g; however, the linear acceleration vector was complex as it rotated relative to the subject's head. 2. In the first of two sessions, subjects were instructed to maintain an angular pointer oriented towards a remote (15 m) previously seen target during the passive movements. In the second session they had to make a drawing of the path of the perceived trajectory after the movement was finished. 3. The results showed that, on average, the movement of the pointer matched the dynamics of the rotatory component of the 2-D motion well. This suggests that, in the range of linear accelerations used in this study, no appreciable influence of otolith input on canal-mediated perception of angular motion occurred. 4. The curvature of the drawn paths was mostly explained by the input to the semicircular canals. Subjects' reconstruction of motion did not account for the directional dynamics of the input to the otoliths occurring during passive motion. This finding proves that reconstructing trajectory in space does not imply a mathematically perfect transformation of the linear and angular motion-related inputs into a Cartesian or polar 2-D representation. Physiological constraints on the interaction between motion direction and change of heading play an important role in motion perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-233
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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