Human sensitivity to vertical self-motion

Alessandro Nesti, Michael Barnett-Cowan, Paul R. MacNeilage, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Perceiving vertical self-motion is crucial for maintaining balance as well as for controlling an aircraft. Whereas heave absolute thresholds have been exhaustively studied, little work has been done in investigating how vertical sensitivity depends on motion intensity (i.e., differential thresholds). Here we measure human sensitivity for 1-Hz sinusoidal accelerations for 10 participants in darkness. Absolute and differential thresholds are measured for upward and downward translations independently at 5 different peak amplitudes ranging from 0 to 2 m/s2. Overall vertical differential thresholds are higher than horizontal differential thresholds found in the literature. Psychometric functions are fit in linear and logarithmic space, with goodness of fit being similar in both cases. Differential thresholds are higher for upward as compared to downward motion and increase with stimulus intensity following a trend best described by two power laws. The power laws' exponents of 0.60 and 0.42 for upward and downward motion, respectively, deviate from Weber's Law in that thresholds increase less than expected at high stimulus intensity. We speculate that increased sensitivity at high accelerations and greater sensitivity to downward than upward self-motion may reflect adaptations to avoid falling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-314
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jan


  • Differential threshold
  • Gravity
  • Heave
  • Otolith
  • Psychophysics
  • Self-motion perception
  • Vestibular

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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