Gravitational signals arising from the otolith organs and vertical plane rotational signals arising from the semicircular canals interact extensively for accurate estimation of tilt and inertial acceleration. Here we used a classical signal detection paradigm to examine perceptual interactions between otolith and horizontal semicircular canal signals during simultaneous rotation and translation on a curved path. In a rotation detection experiment, blindfolded subjects were asked to detect the presence of angular motion in blocks where half of the trials were pure nasooccipital translation and half were simultaneous translation and yaw rotation (curved-path motion). In separate, translation detection experiments, subjects were also asked to detect either the presence or the absence of nasooccipital linear motion in blocks, in which half of the trials were pure yaw rotation and half were curved path. Rotation thresholds increased slightly, but not significantly, with concurrent linear velocity magnitude. Yaw rotation detection threshold, averaged across all conditions, was 1.45 ± 0.81° /s (3.49 ± 1.95° /s 2). Translation thresholds, on the other hand, increased significantly with increasing magnitude of concurrent angular velocity. Absolute nasooccipital translation detection threshold, averaged across all conditions, was 2.93 ± 2.10 cm/s (7.07 ± 5.05 cm/s2). These findings suggest that conscious perception might not have independent access to separate estimates of linear and angular movement parameters during curved-path motion. Estimates of linear (and perhaps angular) components might instead rely on integrated information from canals and otoliths. Such interaction may underlie previously reported perceptual errors during curved-path motion and may originate from mechanisms that are specialized for tilt-translation processing during vertical plane rotation.
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