Self-motion leads to mandatory cue fusion across sensory modalities
When perceiving properties of the world, we effortlessly combine multiple sensory cues into optimal estimates. Estimates derived from the individual cues are generally retained once the multisensory estimate is produced and discarded only if the cues stem from the same sensory modality (i.e., mandatory fusion). Does multisensory integration differ in that respect when the object of perception is one's own body, rather than an external variable? We quantified how humans combine visual and vestibular information for perceiving own-body rotations and specifically tested whether such idiothetic cues are subjected to mandatory fusion. Participants made extensive size comparisons between successive whole body rotations using only visual, only vestibular, and both senses together. Probabilistic descriptions of the subjects' perceptual estimates were compared with a Bayes-optimal integration model. Similarity between model predictions and experimental data echoed a statistically optimal mechanism of multisensory integration. Most importantly, size discrimination data for rotations composed of both stimuli was best accounted for by a model in which only the bimodal estimator is accessible for perceptual judgments as opposed to an independent or additive use of all three estimators (visual, vestibular, and bimodal). Indeed, subjects' thresholds for detecting two multisensory rotations as different from one another were, in pertinent cases, larger than those measured using either single-cue estimate alone. Rotations different in terms of the individual visual and vestibular inputs but quasi-identical in terms of the integrated bimodal estimate became perceptual metamers. This reveals an exceptional case of mandatory fusion of cues stemming from two different sensory modalities.