Computational approaches to spatial orientation: From transfer functions to dynamic bayesian inference

Paul R. MacNeilage, Narayan Ganesan, Dora E. Angelaki

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Spatial orientation is the sense of body orientation and self-motion relative to the stationary environment, fundamental to normal waking behavior and control of everyday motor actions including eye movements, postural control, and locomotion. The brain achieves spatial orientation by integrating visual, vestibular, and somatosensory signals. Over the past years, considerable progress has been made toward understanding how these signals are processed by the brain using multiple computational approaches that include frequency domain analysis, the concept of internal models, observer theory, Bayesian theory, and Kalman filtering. Here we put these approaches in context by examining the specific questions that can be addressed by each technique and some of the scientific insights that have resulted. We conclude with a recent application of particle filtering, a probabilistic simulation technique that aims to generate the most likely state estimates by incorporating internal models of sensor dynamics and physical laws and noise associated with sensory processing as well as prior knowledge or experience. In this framework, priors for low angular velocity and linear acceleration can explain the phenomena of velocity storage and frequency segregation, both of which have been modeled previously using arbitrary low-pass filtering. How Kalman and particle filters may be implemented by the brain is an emerging field. Unlike past neurophysiological research that has aimed to characterize mean responses of single neurons, investigations of dynamic Bayesian inference should attempt to characterize population activities that constitute probabilistic representations of sensory and prior information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2981-2996
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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