Date: 09 Mar 2012

Directional Asymmetries and Age Effects in Human Self-Motion Perception

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Abstract

Directional asymmetries in vestibular reflexes have aided the diagnosis of vestibular lesions; however, potential asymmetries in vestibular perception have not been well defined. This investigation sought to measure potential asymmetries in human vestibular perception. Vestibular perception thresholds were measured in 24 healthy human subjects between the ages of 21 and 68 years. Stimuli consisted of a single cycle of sinusoidal acceleration in a single direction lasting 1 or 2 s (1 or 0.5 Hz), delivered in sway (left–right), surge (forward–backward), heave (up–down), or yaw rotation. Subject identified self-motion directions were analyzed using a forced choice technique, which permitted thresholds to be independently determined for each direction. Non-motion stimuli were presented to measure possible response bias. A significant directional asymmetry in the dynamic response occurred in 27% of conditions tested within subjects, and in at least one type of motion in 92% of subjects. Directional asymmetries were usually consistent when retested in the same subject but did not occur consistently in one direction across the population with the exception of heave at 0.5 Hz. Responses during null stimuli presentation suggested that asymmetries were not due to biased guessing. Multiple models were applied and compared to determine if sensitivities were direction specific. Using Akaike information criterion, it was found that the model with direction specific sensitivities better described the data in 86% of runs when compared with a model that used the same sensitivity for both directions. Mean thresholds for yaw were 1.3 ± 0.9°/s at 0.5 Hz and 0.9 ± 0.7°/s at 1 Hz and were independent of age. Thresholds for surge and sway were 1.7 ± 0.8 cm/s at 0.5 Hz and 0.7 ± 0.3 cm/s at 1.0 Hz for subjects <50 and were significantly higher in subjects >50 years old. Heave thresholds were higher and were independent of age.