Effect of eye position during human visual-vestibular integration of heading perception

J Neurophysiol. 2017 Sep 1;118(3):1609-1621. doi: 10.1152/jn.00037.2017. Epub 2017 Jun 14.


Visual and inertial stimuli provide heading discrimination cues. Integration of these multisensory stimuli has been demonstrated to depend on their relative reliability. However, the reference frame of visual stimuli is eye centered while inertia is head centered, and it remains unclear how these are reconciled with combined stimuli. Seven human subjects completed a heading discrimination task consisting of a 2-s translation with a peak velocity of 16 cm/s. Eye position was varied between 0° and ±25° left/right. Experiments were done with inertial motion, visual motion, or a combined visual-inertial motion. Visual motion coherence varied between 35% and 100%. Subjects reported whether their perceived heading was left or right of the midline in a forced-choice task. With the inertial stimulus the eye position had an effect such that the point of subjective equality (PSE) shifted 4.6 ± 2.4° in the gaze direction. With the visual stimulus the PSE shift was 10.2 ± 2.2° opposite the gaze direction, consistent with retinotopic coordinates. Thus with eccentric eye positions the perceived inertial and visual headings were offset ~15°. During the visual-inertial conditions the PSE varied consistently with the relative reliability of these stimuli such that at low visual coherence the PSE was similar to that of the inertial stimulus and at high coherence it was closer to the visual stimulus. On average, the inertial stimulus was weighted near Bayesian ideal predictions, but there was significant deviation from ideal in individual subjects. These findings support visual and inertial cue integration occurring in independent coordinate systems.NEW & NOTEWORTHY In multiple cortical areas visual heading is represented in retinotopic coordinates while inertial heading is in body coordinates. It remains unclear whether multisensory integration occurs in a common coordinate system. The experiments address this using a multisensory integration task with eccentric gaze positions making the effect of coordinate systems clear. The results indicate that the coordinate systems remain separate to the perceptual level and that during the multisensory task the perception depends on relative stimulus reliability.

Keywords: human; multisensory integration; psychophysics; vestibular stimuli; visual stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cues
  • Eye Movements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Perception*
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiology
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology*
  • Visual Perception*