Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 228, Issue 1, pp 117–129 | Cite as

Decreasing perceived optic flow rigidity increases postural sway

  • Vivian HoltenEmail author
  • Stella F. Donker
  • Frans A. J. Verstraten
  • Maarten J. van der Smagt
Research Article


Optic flow simulating self-motion through the environment can induce postural adjustments in observers. Some studies investigating this phenomenon have used optic flow patterns increasing in speed from center to periphery, whereas others used optic flow patterns with a constant speed. However, altering the speed gradient of an optic flow stimulus changes the perceived rigidity of such a stimulus. Optic flow stimuli that are perceived as rigid can be expected to provide a stronger sensation of self-motion than non-rigid optic flow, and this may well be reflected in the amount of postural sway. The current study, therefore, examined, by manipulating the speed gradient, to what extent the rigidity of an optic flow stimulus influences posture along the anterior–posterior axis. We used radial random dot expanding or contracting optic flow patterns with three different speed profiles (single-speed, linear speed gradient or quadratic speed gradient) that differentially induce the sensation of self-motion. Interestingly, most postural sway was observed for the non-rigid single-speed optic flow pattern, which contained the least self-motion information of the three profiles. Moreover, we found an anisotropy in that contracting optic flow produced more postural sway than expanding optic flow. In addition, the amount of postural sway increased with increasing stimulus speed, but for contracting optic flow only. Taken together, the results of the current study support the view that visual and sensorimotor systems appear to be tailored toward compensating for rigid optic flow stimulation.


Optic flow rigidity Postural sway Self-motion Electromyography 

Supplementary material

Example movie of an expanding single-speed optic flow pattern containing a constant angular speed, resulting in the visual percept of which the center appears to move faster than the periphery. Note that the speed of the optic flow stimulus is different than in the experiment, since in the experiment the stimulus subtended 87° by 56°. (MPG 7762 kb)

Example movie of an expanding optic flow pattern containing a linear speed gradient, simulating the motion of a fronto-parallel plane toward the observer. Note that the speed of the optic flow stimulus is different than in the experiment, since in the experiment the stimulus subtended 87° by 56° (MPG 7442 kb)

Example movie of an expanding optic flow pattern containing a quadratic speed gradient, simulating observer movement through a circular tunnel. Note that the speed of the optic flow stimulus is different than in the experiment, since in the experiment the stimulus subtended 87° by 56° (MPG 6428 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vivian Holten
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stella F. Donker
    • 1
  • Frans A. J. Verstraten
    • 2
  • Maarten J. van der Smagt
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Experimental Psychology, Helmholtz InstituteUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.School of PsychologyThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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