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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e40264. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040264. Epub 2012 Jul 2.

Vestibular facilitation of optic flow parsing.

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  • 1Vertigo, Balance, and Oculomotor Research Center, University Hospital of Munich, Munich, Germany.


Simultaneous object motion and self-motion give rise to complex patterns of retinal image motion. In order to estimate object motion accurately, the brain must parse this complex retinal motion into self-motion and object motion components. Although this computational problem can be solved, in principle, through purely visual mechanisms, extra-retinal information that arises from the vestibular system during self-motion may also play an important role. Here we investigate whether combining vestibular and visual self-motion information improves the precision of object motion estimates. Subjects were asked to discriminate the direction of object motion in the presence of simultaneous self-motion, depicted either by visual cues alone (i.e. optic flow) or by combined visual/vestibular stimuli. We report a small but significant improvement in object motion discrimination thresholds with the addition of vestibular cues. This improvement was greatest for eccentric heading directions and negligible for forward movement, a finding that could reflect increased relative reliability of vestibular versus visual cues for eccentric heading directions. Overall, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that vestibular inputs can help parse retinal image motion into self-motion and object motion components.

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