Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 222, Issue 3, pp 219–228 | Cite as

Balancing bistable perception during self-motion

  • Michiel van Elk
  • Olaf Blanke
Research Article


In two experiments we investigated whether bistable visual perception is influenced by passive own body displacements due to vestibular stimulation. For this we passively rotated our participants around the vertical (yaw) axis while observing different rotating bistable stimuli (bodily or non-bodily) with different ambiguous motion directions. Based on previous work on multimodal effects on bistable perception, we hypothesized that vestibular stimulation should alter bistable perception and that the effects should differ for bodily versus non-bodily stimuli. In the first experiment, it was found that the rotation bias (i.e., the difference between the percentage of time that a CW or CCW rotation was perceived) was selectively modulated by vestibular stimulation: the perceived duration of the bodily stimuli was longer for the rotation direction congruent with the subject’s own body rotation, whereas the opposite was true for the non-bodily stimulus (Necker cube). The results found in the second experiment extend the findings from the first experiment and show that these vestibular effects on bistable perception only occur when the axis of rotation of the bodily stimulus matches the axis of passive own body rotation. These findings indicate that the effect of vestibular stimulation on the rotation bias depends on the stimulus that is presented and the rotation axis of the stimulus. Although most studies on vestibular processing have traditionally focused on multisensory signal integration for posture, balance, and heading direction, the present data show that vestibular self-motion influences the perception of bistable bodily stimuli revealing the importance of vestibular mechanisms for visual consciousness.


Bistable perception Biological motion Vestibular processing 



We thank Bruno Herbelin for assistance in creating the 3D stimuli and Mario Prsa for assistance in setting up the experiment on the motion platform. The present study was supported by the Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship within the Seventh European Community Framework Program (IEF grant 252713 to MVE). OB is supported by the Swiss National Science foundation, the European Science Foundation, and the Fondation Bertarelli.

Supplementary material

221_2012_3209_MOESM1_ESM.asf (917 kb)
Supplementary video 1: Example video used in Experiment 1 and 2, representing a female avatar in vertical position rotating along the yaw axis (ASF 916 kb)
221_2012_3209_MOESM2_ESM.asf (569 kb)
Supplementary video 2: Example video used in Experiment 1, representing a male avatar in a vertical position rotating along the yaw axis (ASF 568 kb)
221_2012_3209_MOESM3_ESM.asf (1.1 mb)
Supplementary video 3: Example video used in Experiment 1, representing a Necker cube rotating along the yaw axis (ASF 1160 kb)
221_2012_3209_MOESM4_ESM.asf (553 kb)
Supplementary video 4: Example video used in Experiment 2, representing a female avatar in horizontal position and rotating along the roll axis (ASF 552 kb)
221_2012_3209_MOESM5_ESM.asf (561 kb)
Supplementary video 5: Example video used in Experiment 2, representing a female avatar in a vertical position and rotating along the roll axis (ASF 560 kb)
221_2012_3209_MOESM6_ESM.asf (909 kb)
Supplementary video 6: Example video used in Experiment 2, representing a female avatar in horizontal position rotating along the yaw axis (ASF 908 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain Mind InstituteÉcole Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of NeurologyUniversity HospitalGenevaSwitzerland
  3. 3.Center for NeuroprostheticsÉcole Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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