Temporal processing of self-motion: Translations are processed slower than rotations

In: Seeing and Perceiving
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  • 1 Department of Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, DE
  • | 2 The Brain and Mind Institute, Western University, CA
  • | 3 Department of Brain and Cognitive Engineering, Korea University, DE
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Reaction times (RTs) to purely inertial self-motion stimuli have only infrequently been studied, and comparisons of RTs for translations and rotations, to our knowledge, are nonexistent. We recently proposed a model (Soyka et al., ) which describes direction discrimination thresholds for rotational and translational motions based on the dynamics of the vestibular sensory organs (otoliths and semi-circular canals). This model also predicts differences in RTs for different motion profiles (e.g., trapezoidal versus triangular acceleration profiles or varying profile durations). In order to assess these predictions we measured RTs in 20 participants for 8 supra-threshold motion profiles (4 translations, 4 rotations). A two-alternative forced-choice task, discriminating leftward from rightward motions, was used and 30 correct responses per condition were evaluated. The results agree with predictions for RT differences between motion profiles as derived from previously identified model parameters from threshold measurements. To describe absolute RT, a constant is added to the predictions representing both the discrimination process, and the time needed to press the response button. This constant is approximately 160 ms shorter for rotations, thus indicating that additional processing time is required for translational motion. As this additional latency cannot be explained by our model based on the dynamics of the sensory organs, we speculate that it originates at a later stage, e.g., during tilt-translation disambiguation. Varying processing latencies for different self-motion stimuli (either translations or rotations) which our model can account for must be considered when assessing the perceived timing of vestibular stimulation in comparison with other senses (Barnett-Cowan and Harris, ; Sanders et al., ).

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