Human Visual Orientation in Weightlessness

  • Charles M. Oman


There is still a great deal that we do not understand about human visual orientation, both on Earth and in weightlessness. Our current models are useful in parsing and understanding the different types of 0-G illusions, but the models cannot yet be used to make quantitiative predictions for individual subjects, since they are largely heuristic and incomplete. For example, we need to better understand the effects of fluid shift and otolith unweighting on the gravireceptor bias terms in our models, and have reliable ways of predicting or measuring their magnitude and time course in 0-G. The orientation model presented in this paper is a simple one, and does not include the effects of surface contact forces, which can have a major effect when present. We also know that visual and vestibular angular velocity cues influence the SV, and in certain situations can cause static illusions such as “aviator’s leans,” but these effects are omitted from the current model. Why does susceptibility to “levitation” illusion gradually increase with age on Earth? The stability of the Aubert illusion in individuals suggests idiotropic bias is relatively constant in 1-G, but does it change after months of living in 0-G, in an environment where a “floor” is no longer consistently beneath us? Can we develop models for the way humans represent 3-D spatial frameworks, and validate them? After living in space for many months, will humans develop a more robust ability to establish 3-D spatial frameworks, and turn them over in our minds? My hope is that continued scientific research in weightlessness aboard the space station and its successors will ultimately help provide answers to these questions.


Motion Sickness International Space Station Crew Member Body Tilt Spatial Framework 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Asch, S. E. and Witkin, H. A. (1948). Studies in space orientation: I. Perception of the upright with displaced visual fields. J. Exp. Psych., 38: 325–337.Google Scholar
  2. Brandt, T., Arnold, F., Bles, W. and Kapteyn, T. S. (1980). The mechanism of physiological height vertigo I. Theoretical approach and psychophysics. Acta Otolaryngol., 89: 513–523.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Burrough, B. (1998). Dragonfly. NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  4. Cooper, H. (1976). A House in Space. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  5. Creem, S. H., Wraga, M. and Prottitt, D. R. (2001). Imagining physicaly impossible self-rotations: geometry is more important than gravity. Cognition, 81: 41–64.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Ebenholtz, S. M. (1977). Determinants of the Rod and Frame Effect: The role of retinal size. Percept. and Psychophys., 22: 531–538.Google Scholar
  7. Franklin, N. and Tversky, B. (1990). Searching imagined environments. J. Exp. Psych.: Gen., 119: 63–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gazenko, O. (1964). Medical studies on the cosmic spacecrafts “Vostok” and “Voskhod”.Google Scholar
  9. Graybiel, A. and Kellogg, R. S. (1967). Inversion illusion in parabolic flight: its probable dependence on otolith function. Aviation, Space, and Environ. Med., 38: 1099–1013.Google Scholar
  10. Howard, I. P. (1982). Human Visual Orientation. Toronto: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Howard, I. P. and Childerson, L. (1994). The contribution of motion, the visual frame, and visual polarity to sensations of body tilt. Percept., 23: 753–762.Google Scholar
  12. Howard, I. P. and Hu, G. (2001). Visually inducd reorientation illusions. Perception, 30: 583–600.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Howard, I. P., Jenkin, H. L. and Hu, G. (2000). Visually-induced reorientation illusions as a function of age. Aviation, Space, and Environ. Med., 71S: A87–A91.Google Scholar
  14. Hu, G., Howard, I. P. and Palmisano, S. (1999). The role of intrinsic and extrinsic polarity in generating reorientation illusions. Invest. Ophthal. and Vis. Sci., 40: S801.Google Scholar
  15. Kleint, H. (1936). Versuche üuber die Wahrnehmung. Zeitschrift fur Psychologie. 138: 1–34.Google Scholar
  16. Knierim, J. J., McNaughton, B. L. and Poe, G. R. (2000). Three-dimensional spatial selectivity of hippocampal neurons during space flight. Nature Neurosci., 3: 209–210.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Lackner, J. (1992). Spatial orientation in weightless environments. Percept., 21: 803–812.Google Scholar
  18. Lackner, J. and Graybiel, A. (1983). Perceived orientation in free fall depends on visual, postural, and architectural factors. Aviation, Space and Environ. Med., 54: 47–51.Google Scholar
  19. Linenger, J. M. (2000). Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  20. McNamara, T. P. (1986). Mental representations of spatial relations. Cog. Psych., 18: 87–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mittelstaedt, H. (1983). A new solution to the problem of subjective vertical. Naturwissenschaften, 70: 272–281.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Mittelstaedt, H. (1988). Determinants of space perception in space flight. Adv. Oto-Rhino-Laryng., 42: 18–23.Google Scholar
  23. Mittelstaedt, H. (1996a). Somatic gravireception. Biolog. Psych., 42: 53–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mittelstaedt, H. (1996b). Inflight and postflight results on the causation of inversion illusions and space sickness. Scientific Results of the German Spacelab Mission D1, Norderney, Germany, Wissenshaftliche Projecktfuhrung D1/DFVLR, Koln, Germany.Google Scholar
  25. Mittelstaedt, H. and Glasauer, S. (1993). Crucial effects of weightlessness on human orientation. J. Vest. Res., 3: 307–314.Google Scholar
  26. O’Keefe, J. (1976). Place units in the hippocampus of the freely moving rat. Exp. Neurol., 51: 78–109.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Oman, C. M. (1982). A heuristic mathematical model for the dynamics of sensory conflict and motion sickness. Acta Otolaryngologica, Stockholm (Suppl 392), 1–44.Google Scholar
  28. Oman, C. M. (1986). Etiologic role of head movements and visual cues in space motion sickness on Spacelabs 1 and D-1. Proc. 7th IAA Man in Space Symposium: Physiologic Adaptation of Man in Space, Houston, TX.Google Scholar
  29. Oman, C. M. (1987). The role of static visual orientation cues in the etiology of space motion sickness. Proc. Symposium on Vestibular Organs and Altered Force Environment. Houston, TX, NASA/Space Biomedical Research Institute, pp. 25–37.Google Scholar
  30. Oman, C. M. (1990). Motion sickness: a synthesis and evaluation of the sensory conflict theory. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol., 68: 294–303.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Oman, C. M., Howard, I. P., Carpenter-Smith, T., Beall, A. C., Natapoff, A., Zacher, J. E. and Jenkin, H. L. (2000). Neurolab experiments on the role of visual cues in microgravity spatial orientation. Aviation Space and Environ. Med., 71: 293.Google Scholar
  32. Oman, C. M., Lichtenberg, B. K., Money, K. E. and McCoy, R. K. (1984). Symptoms and signs of space motion sickness on Spacelab-1. Proc. NATO-AGARD Aerospace Medical Panel Symposium on Motion Sickness: Mechanisms, Prediction, Prevention and Treatment, Williamsburg, Va, NATO AGARD CP-372. Later republished as Oman, C. M., Lichtenberg, B. K. et al. In G. H. Crampton (Ed.) Symptoms and Signs of Space Motion Sickness on Spacelab-1. Motion and Space Sickness, pp. 217–246. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  33. Oman, C. M., Lichtenberg, B. K., Money, K. E. and McCoy, R. K. (1986). MIT/Canadian vestibular experiments on the Spacelab-1 mission: 4. Space motion sickness: symptoms, stimuli, and predictability. Exp. Brain Res, 64: 316–334.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Oman, C. M. and Shubentsov, I. (1992). Space sickness symptom severity correlates with average head acceleration. In A. L. Bianch, L. Grelot, A. D. Miller and G. L. King (Eds.), Mechanisms and Control of Emesis, Colloque INSERM/Libbey Eurotext, Ltd. 233: 185–194.Google Scholar
  35. Oman, C. M. and Skwersky, A. (1997). Effect of scene polarity and head orientation on illusions in a tumbling virtual environment. Aviation, Space, and Environ. Med., 68: 649.Google Scholar
  36. Reason, J. T. (1978). Motion sickness adaptation: a sensory mismatch model. J Roy. Soc. Med., 71: 819–829.Google Scholar
  37. Reschke, M. F., Bloomberg, J. J. et al. (1994). Neurophysiological Aspects: Sensory and Sensory-Motor Function. Space Physiology and Medicine. A. E. Nicogossian, Lea and Febiger.Google Scholar
  38. Richards, J. A., Clark, J. B. et al. (2001). Neurovestibular effects of long-duration space-flight: a summary of Mir phase 1 experiences. NASA Johnson Space Center National Space Biomedical Research Institute.Google Scholar
  39. Sadalla, E. K., Burroughs, W. J. and Staplin, L. J. (1980). Reference points in spatial cognition. J. Exp. Psych.: Human Learn. and Mem, 6: 516–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Singer, G., Purcell, A. T. et al. (1970). The effect of structure and degree of tilt on the tilted room illusion. Percept. and Psychophys., 7: 250–252.Google Scholar
  41. Taube, J. S., Muller, R. U. and Ranck, J. B. Jr. (1990). Head direction cells recorded from the postsubiculum in freely moving rats. J. Neurosci., 10: 436–447.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Taube, J. S., Stackman, R. W. et al. (1999). Rat head direction cell responses in 0-G. Soc. Neurosci. Abstr., 25: 1383.Google Scholar
  43. Witkin, H. A. and Asch, S. E. (1948). Studies in space orientation: IV. Further experiments on perception of the upright with displaced visual fields. J. Exp. Psych., 38: 762–782.Google Scholar
  44. Young, L. R., Mendoza, J. C., Groleau, N. and Wojck, P. W. (1996). Tactile influences on astronaut visual spatial orientation: Human neurovestibular experiments on Spacelab Life Sciences — 2. J. Applied Physiol., 81: 44–49.Google Scholar
  45. Young, L. R., Oman, C. M. and Dichgans, J. M. (1975). Influence of head orientation on visually induced pitch and roll sensation. Aviation, Space, and Environ. Med., 46: 264–268.Google Scholar
  46. Young, L. R., Oman, C. M., Watt, D. G. C., Money, K. E., Lichtenberg, B. K., Kenyon, R. V. and Arrott, A. P. (1986). MIT/Canadian vestibular experiments on the Spacelab-1 mission: 1. Sensory adaptation to weightlessness and readaptation to 1-G an overview. Exp. Brain Res., 64: 291–298.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles M. Oman

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations