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Eur J Neurosci. 2011 Oct;34(7):1149-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07844.x. Epub 2011 Sep 6.

Absence of compensation for vestibular-evoked passive head rotations in human sound localization.

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  • 1Radboud University Nijmegen, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Department of Biophysics, Geert Grooteplein 21, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


A world-fixed sound presented to a moving head produces changing sound-localization cues, from which the audiomotor system could infer sound movement relative to the head. When appropriately combined with self-motion signals, sound localization remains spatially accurate. Indeed, free-field orienting responses fully incorporate intervening eye-head movements under open-loop localization conditions. Here we investigate the default strategy of the audiomotor system when localizing sounds in the absence of efferent and proprioceptive head-movement signals. Head- and body-restrained listeners made saccades in total darkness toward brief (3, 10 or 100 ms) broadband noise bursts, while being rotated sinusoidally (f=1/9 Hz, V(peak) =112 deg/s) around the vertical body axis. As the loudspeakers were attached to the chair, the 100 ms sounds might be perceived as rotating along with the chair, and localized in head-centred coordinates. During 3 and 10 ms stimuli, however, the amount of chair rotation remained well below the minimum audible movement angle. These brief sounds would therefore be perceived as stationary in space and, as in open-loop gaze orienting, expected to be localized in world-centred coordinates. Analysis of the saccades shows, however, that all stimuli were accurately localized on the basis of imposed acoustic cues, but remained in head-centred coordinates. These results suggest that, in the absence of motor planning, the audio motor system keeps sounds in head-centred coordinates when unsure about sound motion relative to the head. To that end, it ignores vestibular canal signals of passive-induced head rotation, but incorporates intervening eye displacements from vestibular nystagmus during the saccade-reaction time.

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