Role of somatosensory and vestibular cues in attenuating visually induced human postural sway

Robert J. Peterka, Martha S. Benolken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

182 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to determine the contribution of visual, vestibular, and somatosensory cues to the maintenance of stance in humans. Postural sway was induced by full-field, sinusoidal visual surround rotations about an axis at the level of the ankle joints. The influences of vestibular and somatosensory cues were characterized by comparing postural sway in normal and bilateral vestibular absent subjects in conditions that provided either accurate or inaccurate somatosensory orientation information. In normal subjects, the amplitude of visually induced sway reached a saturation level as stimulus amplitude increased. The saturation amplitude decreased with increasing stimulus frequency. No saturation phenomena were observed in subjects with vestibular loss, implying that vestibular cues were responsible for the saturation phenomenon. For visually induced sways below the saturation level, the stimulus-response curves for both normal subjects and subjects experiencing vestibular loss were nearly identical, implying (1) that normal subjects were not using vestibular information to attenuate their visually induced sway, possibly because sway was below a vestibular-related threshold level, and (2) that subjects with vestibular loss did not utilize visual cues to a greater extent than normal subjects; that is, a fundamental change in visual system "gain" was not used to compensate for a vestibular deficit. An unexpected finding was that the amplitude of body sway induced by visual surround motion could be almost 3 times greater than the amplitude of the visual stimulus in normal subjects and subjects with vestibular loss. This occurred in conditions where somatosensory cues were inaccurate and at low stimulus amplitudes. A control system model of visually induced postural sway was developed to explain this finding. For both subject groups, the amplitude of visually induced sway was smaller by a factor of about 4 in tests where somatosensory cues provided accurate versus inaccurate orientation information. This implied (1) that the subjects experiencing vestibular loss did not utilize somatosensory cues to a greater extent than normal subjects; that is, changes in somatosensory system "gain" were not used to compensate for a vestibular deficit, and (2) that the threshold for the use of vestibular cues in normal subjects was apparently lower in test conditions where somatosensory cues were providing accurate orientation information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-110
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 1995



  • Human
  • Postural control
  • Somatosensory
  • Vestibular
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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