Journal article

Balancing bistable perception during self-motion

In two experiments we investigated whether bistable visual perception is influenced by passive own body displacements due to vestibular stimulation. For this we passively rotated our participants around the vertical (yaw) axis while observing different rotating bistable stimuli (bodily or non-bodily) with different ambiguous motion directions. Based on previous work on multimodal effects on bistable perception, we hypothesized that vestibular stimulation should alter bistable perception and that the effects should differ for bodily versus non-bodily stimuli. In the first experiment, it was found that the rotation bias (i.e., the difference between the percentage of time that a CW or CCW rotation was perceived) was selectively modulated by vestibular stimulation: the perceived duration of the bodily stimuli was longer for the rotation direction congruent with the subject's own body rotation, whereas the opposite was true for the non-bodily stimulus (Necker cube). The results found in the second experiment extend the findings from the first experiment and show that these vestibular effects on bistable perception only occur when the axis of rotation of the bodily stimulus matches the axis of passive own body rotation. These findings indicate that the effect of vestibular stimulation on the rotation bias depends on the stimulus that is presented and the rotation axis of the stimulus. Although most studies on vestibular processing have traditionally focused on multisensory signal integration for posture, balance, and heading direction, the present data show that vestibular self-motion influences the perception of bistable bodily stimuli revealing the importance of vestibular mechanisms for visual consciousness.

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