Spatial bias in estimating the position of visual and proprioceptive targets

J Neurophysiol. 2018 May 1;119(5):1879-1888. doi: 10.1152/jn.00633.2017. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


When people match an unseen hand to a visual or proprioceptive target, they make both variable and systematic (bias) errors. Variance is a well-established factor in behavior, but the origin and implications of bias, and its connection to variance, are poorly understood. Eighty healthy adults matched their unseen right index finger to proprioceptive (left index finger) and visual targets with no performance feedback. We asked whether matching bias was related to target modality and to the magnitude or spatial properties of matching variance. Bias errors were affected by target modality, with subjects estimating visual and proprioceptive targets 20 mm apart. We found three pieces of evidence to suggest a connection between bias and variable errors: 1) for most subjects, the target modality that yielded greater spatial bias was also estimated with greater variance; 2) magnitudes of matching bias and variance were somewhat correlated for each target modality ( R = 0.24 and 0.29); and 3) bias direction was closely related to the angle of the major axis of the confidence ellipse ( R = 0.60 and 0.63). However, whereas variance was significantly correlated with visuo-proprioceptive weighting as predicted by multisensory integration theory ( R = -0.29 and 0.27 for visual and proprioceptive variance, respectively), bias was not. In a second session, subjects improved their matching variance, but not bias, for both target modalities, indicating a difference in stability. Taken together, these results suggest bias and variance are related only in some respects, which should be considered in the study of multisensory behavior. NEW & NOTEWORTHY People matching visual or proprioceptive targets make both variable and systematic (bias) errors. Multisensory integration is thought to minimize variance, but if the less variable modality has more bias, behavioral accuracy will decrease. Our data set suggests this is unusual. However, although bias and variable errors were spatially related, they differed in both stability and correlation with multisensory weighting. This suggests the bias-variance relationship is not straightforward, and both should be considered in multisensory behavior.

Keywords: bias errors; matching; proprioception; vision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Proprioception / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult