The Moving History of Vestibular Stimulation as a Therapeutic Intervention

in Multisensory Research
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Although the discovery and understanding of the function of the vestibular system date back only to the 19th century, strategies that involve vestibular stimulation were used long before to calm, soothe and even cure people. While such stimulation was classically achieved with various motion devices, like Cox’s chair or Hallaran’s swing, the development of caloric and galvanic vestibular stimulation has opened up new possibilities in the 20th century. With the increasing knowledge and recognition of vestibular contributions to various perceptual, motor, cognitive, and emotional processes, vestibular stimulation has been suggested as a powerful and non-invasive treatment for a range of psychiatric, neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions. Yet, the therapeutic interventions were, and still are, often not hypothesis-driven as broader theories remain scarce and underlying neurophysiological mechanisms are often vague. We aim to critically review the literature on vestibular stimulation as a form of therapy in various selected disorders and present its successes, expectations, and drawbacks from a historical perspective.

Multisensory Research

A Journal of Scientific Research on All Aspects of Multisensory Processing



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  • (A) A picture of Hallaran’s bed and chair used for therapeutic purposes in an asylum in the beginning of the 19th century (Hallaran, 1818), (B) the device used by Ernst Mach for experimental purposes (Mach, 1875) and (C) Bárány’s rotating chair that he used for clinical diagnostics (Bárány, 1907).

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  • (A) Bárány’s (1907) bedside caloric test showing (a) rubber bag to collect the water, (b) nozzle for water irrigation, and (c) balloon filled with water (see also Baloh, 2002). (B) Early galvanic stimulation device; here used in order to cure tinnitus (Grapengiesser, 1801).

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