How imagery changes self-motion perception

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Imagery and perception are thought to be tightly linked, however, little is known about the interaction between imagery and the vestibular sense, in particular, self-motion perception. In this study, the observers were seated in the dark on a motorized chair that could rotate either to the right or to the left. Prior to the physical rotation, observers were asked to imagine themselves rotating leftward or rightward. We found that if the direction of imagined rotation was different to the physical rotation of the chair (incongruent trials), the velocity of the chair needed to be higher for observers to experience themselves rotating relative to when the imagined and the physical rotation matched (on congruent trials). Accordingly, the vividness of imagined rotations was reduced on incongruent relative to congruent trials. Notably, we found that similar effects of imagery were found at the earliest stages of vestibular processing, namely, the onset of the vestibular-ocular reflex was modulated by the congruency between physical and imagined rotations. Together, the results demonstrate that mental imagery influences self-motion perception by exerting top-down influences over the earliest vestibular response and subsequent perceptual decision-making.




Nigmatullina, Y., Arshad, Q., Wu, K., Seemungal, B. M., Bronstein, A. M., & Soto, D. (2015). How imagery changes self-motion perception. Neuroscience, 291, 46–52.

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