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Thresholds for Human Perception of Roll Tilt Motion: Patterns of Variability Based on Visual, Vestibular, and Mixed Cues

Mardirossian, Vartan*; Karmali, Faisal; Merfeld, Daniel

doi: 10.1097/MAO.0000000000000346
Vestibular Disorders

Hypothesis Visual and vestibular cues provide complementary information about spatial orientation.

Background A previous study we performed showed that visual and vestibular cues are fused when the brain judges the roll-tilt direction. However, it was unclear if the motion perception threshold measured in visual-vestibular conditions will be better than visual or vestibular thresholds at high frequencies.

Methods An innovative method of vestibular evaluation, the measurement of vestibular thresholds, was used. We used a Moog mobile platform with dedicated software. Four subjects were tested at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 Hz with adaptively decreasing amplitude. Subjects were asked to indicate the direction of motion in three conditions: vestibular only, subjects roll tilted in the dark; visual only, a visual scene was tilted in front of the subjects; and combined visual + vestibular, subjects rotated while watching a stationary visual scene. For each subject, we calculated the percentage difference between the threshold for combined visual/vestibular stimuli and the best of either the vestibular or visual threshold.

Results Visual and vestibular thresholds significantly differed in function of frequency.

Conclusion Vestibular and visual thresholds at different frequencies are significantly different, which support the fact that they use different perception pathways. The brain may determine the body motion in space during roll tilt motion by integration of vestibular and visual inputs: the combined estimate of motion is better than the vestibular input and is not significantly better than the visual cues alone. This research may be useful in the workup of vertiginous disorders with impaired integration of vestibular and visual cues (motion sickness and migraine dizziness).

*Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University Medical Center; and †Jenks Vestibular Physiology Lab, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Vartan Mardirossian, M.D., Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University Medical Center, 1 BMC Place, FGH Building, 4th Floor, Boston, MA 02218, U.S.A.; E-mail:;

This study was supported by grant DC04158 from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (IRB MEEI 98-09-027).

The authors disclose no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2014 by Otology & Neurotology, Inc. Image copyright © 2010 Wolters Kluwer Health/Anatomical Chart Company