Contribution of somesthetic cues to the perception of body orientation and subjective visual vertical
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Without relevant visual cues, the subjective visual vertical (SVV) is biased in roll-tilted subjects toward the body axis (Aubert or A-effect). This study focused on the role of the somatosensory system with respect to the SVV and on whether somesthetic cues act through the estimated body tilt. The body cast technology was used to obtain a diffuse tactile stimulation. An increased A-effect was expected because of a greater underestimation of the body position in the body cast. Sixteen subjects placed in a tilt chair were rolled sideways from 0° to 105°. They were asked to verbally indicate their subjective body position and then to adjust a luminous line to the vertical under strapped and body cast conditions. Results showed a greater A-effect (p<.001) but an overestimation of the body orientation (p<.01) in the body cast condition for the higher tilt values (beyond 60°). Since the otolith organs produced the same gravity response in both conditions, errors were due to a change in somesthetic cues. Visual and postural errors were not directly related (no correlation). However, the angular distance between the apparent body position and the SVV remained stable, suggesting that the change in somatosensory pattern inputs has a similar impact on the cognitive processes involved in assessing the perception of external space and the sense of self-position.