Expanding Vestibular Spatial Perception

Eric R Anson, Yoav Gimmon, Michael C Schubert

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Purpose/Hypothesis: Spatial orientation perception is highly influenced by vestibular afferent signals. Individuals with vestibular disease often report persistent sensations of abnormal self-motion (chronic dizziness), and perform worse on spatial perception and navigation tasks than healthy adults. The mainstay of vestibular rehabilitation emphasizes bottom-up behavioral modification via reflex adaptation, multisensory integration, and/or habituation. We hypothesized that a top-down approach based on verbal feedback will modify self-motion perception, specifically vestibular spatial orientation.

Number of Subjects: Healthy young adults participated in experiment 1 (EXP1) [n = 15, mean age 31.2 (SD = 7.96)] and experiment 2 (EXP2) [n = 9, mean age 30.9 (10.7)].

Materials and Methods: EXP1: Subjects experienced 100 passive whole body rotations (10 blocks of 10 rotations) non-uniformly distributed randomly ordered (45, 90, 135, or 180 degrees) while blindfolded and listening to white noise. After each rotation, subjects verbally reported the perceived rotation size, but received no feedback regarding accuracy. Perceptual gain (PG) was calculated (perceived rotation size / actual rotation size). EXP2: Subjects experienced 120 uniformly distributed randomly ordered passive whole body rotations (60, 90, 120, 150, or 180 degrees) while blindfolded and listening to white noise. As in EXP1, subjects verbally reported the perceived rotation size. No feedback was provided after rotations 1-20 (pretest) or 101-120 (posttest); verbal feedback to bias (increase) perceived rotation size was provided after rotations 21-100. PG was calculated as in EXP1. Mixed model analyses determined whether PG differed across rotation size or rotation block in EXP1. Repeated measures ANOVA determined whether posttest PG significantly differed from pretest PG.

Results: EXP1: PG for vestibular spatial orientation significantly declined with increasing rotation amplitude (F(3,59) = 18.22, p < 0.001). Average PG was stable across all blocks (F(9,149) = 1.52, p < 0.208). EXP2: PG for vestibular spatial orientation significantly increased in the direction biased by the verbal feedback when comparing posttest to pretest (F(1,40) = 175.49, p < 0.001). Pairwise comparisons show that PG significantly increased for all rotation sizes (p’s < 0.001).

Conclusions: These results indicate vestibular perception of spatial orientation is modifiable in healthy adults. Additionally, vestibular perception of spatial orientation is stable across repetitions for healthy adults in the absence of modifying feedback. These experiments provide the groundwork for development of novel treatments for perceptual impairments in chronic dizziness.

Clinical Relevance: A perceptual re-training paradigm based on verbal feedback may have clinical applications for individuals with chronic dizziness.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2020
EventAmerican Physical Therapy Association: Combined Sections Meeting - Colorado Convention Center , Denver, United States
Duration: 12 Feb 202015 Feb 2020


ConferenceAmerican Physical Therapy Association
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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