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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jul;106(1):59-70. doi: 10.1152/jn.00641.2010. Epub 2011 Apr 13.

Sensory weighting and realignment: independent compensatory processes.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


When estimating the position of one hand for the purpose of reaching to it with the other, humans have visual and proprioceptive estimates of the target hand's position. These are thought to be weighted and combined to form an integrated estimate in such a way that variance is minimized. If visual and proprioceptive estimates are in disagreement, it may be advantageous for the nervous system to bring them back into register by spatially realigning one or both. It is possible that realignment is determined by weights, in which case the lower-weighted modality should always realign more than the higher-weighted modality. An alternative possibility is that realignment and weighting processes are controlled independently, and either can be used to compensate for a sensory misalignment. Here, we imposed a misalignment between visual and proprioceptive estimates of target hand position in a reaching task designed to allow simultaneous, independent measurement of weights and realignment. In experiment 1, we used endpoint visual feedback to create a situation where task success could theoretically be achieved with either a weighting or realignment strategy, but vision had to be regarded as the correctly aligned modality to achieve success. In experiment 2, no endpoint visual feedback was given. We found that realignment operates independently of weights in the former case but not in the latter case, suggesting that while weighting and realignment may operate in conjunction in some circumstances, they are biologically independent processes that give humans behavioral flexibility in compensating for sensory perturbations.

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