When gravity is not where it should be: How perceived orientation affects visual self-motion processing
OPEN PloS one | 7 Jan 2021
M McManus and LR Harris
Human perception is based on expectations. We expect visual upright and gravity upright, sensed through vision, vestibular and other sensory systems, to agree. Equally, we expect that visual and vestibular information about self-motion will correspond. What happens when these assumptions are violated? Tilting a person from upright so that gravity is not where it should be impacts both visually induced self-motion (vection) and the perception of upright. How might the two be connected? Using virtual reality, we varied the strength of visual orientation cues, and hence the probability of participants experiencing a visual reorientation illusion (VRI) in which visual cues to orientation dominate gravity, using an oriented corridor and a starfield while also varying head-on-trunk orientation and body posture. The effectiveness of the optic flow in simulating self-motion was assessed by how much visual motion was required to evoke the perception that the participant had reached the position of a previously presented target. VRI was assessed by questionnaire When participants reported higher levels of VRI they also required less visual motion to evoke the sense of traveling through a given distance, regardless of head or body posture, or the type of visual environment. We conclude that experiencing a VRI, in which visual-vestibular conflict is resolved and the direction of upright is reinterpreted, affects the effectiveness of optic flow at simulating motion through the environment. Therefore, any apparent effect of head or body posture or type of environment are largely indirect effects related instead, to the level of VRI experienced by the observer. We discuss potential mechanisms for this such as reinterpreting gravity information or altering the weighting of orientation cues.
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