Modeling direction discrimination thresholds for yaw rotations around an earth-vertical axis for arbitrary motion profiles

Florian Soyka, Paolo Robuffo Giordano, Michael Barnett-Cowan, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the dynamics of vestibular perception is important, for example, for improving the realism of motion simulation and virtual reality environments or for diagnosing patients suffering from vestibular problems. Previous research has found a dependence of direction discrimination thresholds for rotational motions on the period length (inverse frequency) of a transient (single cycle) sinusoidal acceleration stimulus. However, self-motion is seldom purely sinusoidal, and up to now, no models have been proposed that take into account non-sinusoidal stimuli for rotational motions. In this work, the influence of both the period length and the specific time course of an inertial stimulus is investigated. Thresholds for three acceleration profile shapes (triangular, sinusoidal, and trapezoidal) were measured for three period lengths (0.3, 1.4, and 6.7 s) in ten participants. A two-alternative forced-choice discrimination task was used where participants had to judge if a yaw rotation around an earth-vertical axis was leftward or rightward. The peak velocity of the stimulus was varied, and the threshold was defined as the stimulus yielding 75 % correct answers. In accordance with previous research, thresholds decreased with shortening period length (from ~2 deg/s for 6.7 s to ~0.8 deg/s for 0.3 s). The peak velocity was the determining factor for discrimination: Different profiles with the same period length have similar velocity thresholds. These measurements were used to fit a novel model based on a description of the firing rate of semi-circular canal neurons. In accordance with previous research, the estimates of the model parameters suggest that velocity storage does not influence perceptual thresholds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-99
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jul

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This research was supported by Max Planck Society stipends (Florian Soyka, Paolo Robuffo Giordano, Michael Barnett-Cowan), the European research project SUPRA (Contract FP7-233543,, and the WCU (World Class University) program through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (R31–10008). The authors wish to thank Karl Beykirch, Michael Kerger, and Harald Teufel for scientific discussion and technical support.


  • Model
  • Psychophysics
  • Rotation
  • Self-motion
  • Semi-circular canals
  • Threshold
  • Transfer functions
  • Vestibular

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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