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Vestibular thresholds for yaw rotation about an earth-vertical axis as a function of frequency

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Perceptual direction detection thresholds for yaw rotation about an earth-vertical axis were measured at seven frequencies (0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, and 5 Hz) in seven subjects in the dark. Motion stimuli consisted of single cycles of sinusoidal acceleration and were generated by a motion platform. An adaptive two-alternative categorical forced-choice procedure was used. The subjects had to indicate by button presses whether they perceived yaw rotation to the left or to the right. Thresholds were measured using a 3-down, 1-up staircase paradigm. Mean yaw rotation velocity thresholds were 2.8 deg s−1 for 0.05 Hz, 2.5 deg s−1 for 0.1 Hz, 1.7 deg s−1 for 0.2 Hz, 0.7 deg s−1 for 0.5 Hz, 0.6 deg s−1 for 1 Hz, 0.4 deg s−1 for 2 Hz, and 0.6 deg s−1 for 5 Hz. The results show that motion thresholds increase at 0.2 Hz and below and plateau at 0.5 Hz and above. Increasing velocity thresholds at lower frequencies qualitatively mimic the high-pass characteristics of the semicircular canals, since the increase at 0.2 Hz and below would be consistent with decreased gain/sensitivity observed in the VOR at lower frequencies. In fact, the measured dynamics are consistent with a high pass filter having a threshold plateau of 0.71 deg s-1 and a cut-off frequency of 0.23 Hz, which corresponds to a time constant of approximately 0.70 s. These findings provide no evidence for an influence of velocity storage on perceptual yaw rotation thresholds.

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  1. We use the term threshold as often defined by psychophysicists using signal detection theory, which is the level at which a signal becomes detectable relative to noise—where the noise includes noise inherent to the sensory system and may also include noise applied intentionally or incidentally via the stimuli.

  2. The concept of velocity storage (Raphan et al. 1977; Robinson 1977) was published after Guedry’s (1974) review.

  3. A possible right side horizontal canal paresis was detected in one subject, and a slight VOR asymmetry in the other.


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We would like to thank the subjects for volunteering to participate, Robert S. Grimes for programming, Koeun Lim for assistance with data collection, and Mikail Massov for technical and mechanical support. This research was supported by the NIH/NIDCD grant DC04158 and the Swiss National Science Foundation PDFM1-114406.

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Correspondence to Luzia Grabherr.

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Grabherr, L., Nicoucar, K., Mast, F.W. et al. Vestibular thresholds for yaw rotation about an earth-vertical axis as a function of frequency. Exp Brain Res 186, 677–681 (2008).

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