Perception of rotation, path, and heading in circular trajectories

Suzanne A.E. Nooij, Alessandro Nesti, Heinrich H. Bülthoff, Paolo Pretto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


When in darkness, humans can perceive the direction and magnitude of rotations and of linear translations in the horizontal plane. The current paper addresses the integrated perception of combined translational and rotational motion, as it occurs when moving along a curved trajectory. We questioned whether the perceived motion through the environment follows the predictions of a self-motion perception model (e.g., Merfeld et al. in J Vestib Res 3:141–161, 1993; Newman in A multisensory observer model for human spatial orientation perception, 2009), which assume linear addition of rotational and translational components. For curved motion in darkness, such models predict a non-veridical motion percept, consisting of an underestimation of the perceived rotation, a distortion of the perceived travelled path, and a bias in the perceived heading (i.e., the perceived instantaneous direction of motion with respect to the body). These model predictions were evaluated in two experiments. In Experiment 1, seven participants were moved along a circular trajectory in darkness while facing the motion direction. They indicated perceived yaw rotation using an online tracking task, and perceived travelled path by drawings. In Experiment 2, the heading was systematically varied, and six participants indicated, in a 2-alternative forced-choice task, whether they perceived facing inward or outward of the circular path. Overall, we found no evidence for the heading bias predicted by the model. This suggests that the sum of the perceived rotational and translational components alone cannot adequately explain the overall perceived motion through the environment. Possibly, knowledge about motion dynamics and familiar stimuli combinations may play an important additional role in shaping the percept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2323-2337
Number of pages15
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Aug 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open access funding provided by Max Planck Society (Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics). Joachim Tesch and Maria Lächele are kindly acknowledged for their technical support during the experiments. The authors thank Jan Holly for stimulating discussions on perception modeling and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This study was supported by the Max Planck Society.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, The Author(s).


  • Eccentric rotation
  • Heading
  • Motion perception
  • Multisensory integration
  • Psychophysics
  • Translation
  • Vestibular

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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