This article considers the intersensory interaction mechanisms and biomechanical aspects of human spatially oriented behavior and asks to what extent these are interrelated on earth by gravity and how they might be affected under microgravity. The interactions between vestibular, somatosensory and visual inputs for postural control are obscured by several complications (biomechanics, multi-body dynamics, multimodal feedback control, cognition etc.). However, they can be revealed in psychophysical studies on human self-motion perception. Based on such studies, we present a conceptual model, which we think is valid also for postural control. It accounts for the multi-segmental structure of the body, allowing local control of inter-segmental joints, but uses one global reference system for all segments, which is derived from the intersensory interactions. We hold that, at a sensory level, the system is tied together by linkages between vestibular, visual and somatosensory information which develop through experience of inertial and gravitational reaction forces. On earth these linkages are established even in the absence of active behavior by gravity, allowing the incorporation of one's body and its support into a notion (Gestalt) of ourselves in the environment. Under microgravity, in contrast, the linkages have to be actively established for postural and perceptual stability in the environment (e.g., by grasping a handle on the wall). From this work we recommend that future research under altered gravity conditions should be guided by models that include biomechanics, considerations of intersensory interaction and dynamic control mechanisms. Such an integrative conceptual framework will be helpful for reaching a general understanding of spatially oriented behavior.
Copyright 1998 Elsevier Science B.V.