Systematic Biases in Human Heading Estimation

Cuturi, Luigi F.; MacNeilage, Paul R.
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Heading estimation is vital to everyday navigation and locomotion. Despite extensive behavioral and physiological research on both visual and vestibular heading estimation over more than two decades, the accuracy of heading estimation has not yet been systematically evaluated. Therefore human visual and vestibular heading estimation was assessed in the horizontal plane using a motion platform and stereo visual display. Heading angle was overestimated during forward movements and underestimated during backward movements in response to both visual and vestibular stimuli, indicating an overall multimodal bias toward lateral directions. Lateral biases are consistent with the overrepresentation of lateral preferred directions observed in neural populations that carry visual and vestibular heading information, including MSTd and otolith afferent populations. Due to this overrepresentation, population vector decoding yields patterns of bias remarkably similar to those observed behaviorally. Lateral biases are inconsistent with standard Bayesian accounts which predict that estimates should be biased toward the most common straight forward heading direction. Nevertheless, lateral biases may be functionally relevant. They effectively constitute a perceptual scale expansion around straight ahead which could allow for more precise estimation and provide a high gain feedback signal to facilitate maintenance of straight-forward heading during everyday navigation and locomotion.


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