Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 179, Issue 2, pp 263–290 | Cite as

A Bayesian model of the disambiguation of gravitoinertial force by visual cues

  • Paul R. MacNeilageEmail author
  • Martin S. Banks
  • Daniel R. Berger
  • Heinrich H. Bülthoff
Research Article


The otoliths are stimulated in the same fashion by gravitational and inertial forces, so otolith signals are ambiguous indicators of self-orientation. The ambiguity can be resolved with added visual information indicating orientation and acceleration with respect to the earth. Here we present a Bayesian model of the statistically optimal combination of noisy vestibular and visual signals. Likelihoods associated with sensory measurements are represented in an orientation/acceleration space. The likelihood function associated with the otolith signal illustrates the ambiguity; there is no unique solution for self-orientation or acceleration. Likelihood functions associated with other sensory signals can resolve this ambiguity. In addition, we propose two priors, each acting on a dimension in the orientation/acceleration space: the idiotropic prior and the no-acceleration prior. We conducted experiments using a motion platform and attached visual display to examine the influence of visual signals on the interpretation of the otolith signal. Subjects made pitch and acceleration judgments as the vestibular and visual signals were manipulated independently. Predictions of the model were confirmed: (1) visual signals affected the interpretation of the otolith signal, (2) less variable signals had more influence on perceived orientation and acceleration than more variable ones, and (3) combined estimates were more precise than single-cue estimates. We also show that the model can explain some well-known phenomena including the perception of upright in zero gravity, the Aubert effect, and the somatogravic illusion.


Self-motion Body orientation Bayesian estimation Gravitoinertial force Optic flow Acceleration Vestibular system 



This research was supported by NIH training grant (EY14194) to the Berkeley Vision Science program and AFOSR research grant (F49620) to Martin Banks. Thanks to MarcErnst for helpful discussion and the MPI workshop for techincal assistance. Special thanks to three reviewers who provided thoughtful and thorough comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul R. MacNeilage
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin S. Banks
    • 1
    • 2
  • Daniel R. Berger
    • 3
  • Heinrich H. Bülthoff
    • 3
  1. 1.Vision Science ProgramUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and Wills Neuroscience InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for Biological CyberneticsTübingenGermany

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