, Volume 122, Issue 4, pp 367-377

The precision of proprioceptive position sense

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Abstract 

The purpose of this study was to determine the precision of proprioceptive localization of the hand in humans. We derived spatial probability distributions which describe the precision of localization on the basis of three different sources of information: proprioceptive information about the left hand, proprioceptive information about the right hand, and visual information. In the experiment subjects were seated at a table and had to perform three different position-matching tasks. In each task, the position of a target and the position of an indicator were available in a different combination of two of these three sources of information. From the spatial distributions of indicated positions in these three conditions, we derived spatial probability distributions for proprioceptive localization of the two hands and for visual localization. For proprioception we found that localization in the radial direction with respect to the shoulder is more precise than localization in the azimuthal direction. The distributions for proprioceptive localization also suggest that hand positions closer to the shoulder are localized more precisely than positions further away. These patterns can be understood from the geometry of the arm. In addition, the variability in the indicated positions suggests that the shoulder and elbow angles are known to the central nervous system with a precision of 0.6–1.1°. This is a considerably better precision than the values reported in studies on perception of these angles. This implies that joint angles, or quantities equivalent to them, are represented in the central nervous system more precisely than they are consciously perceived. For visual localization we found that localization in the azimuthal direction with respect to the cyclopean eye is more precise than localization in the radial direction. The precision of the perception of visual direction is of the order of 0.2–0.6°.

Received: 3 July 1997 / Accepted: 27 March 1998