Study shows that how we perceive our orientation affects our perception of...
Study shows that how we perceive our orientation affects our perception of self-motion.
Source: York University

What happens when your brain can't tell which way is up or down?

What feels like up may actually be some other direction depending on how our brains process our orientation, according to psychology researchers at York University's Faculty of Health.

In a new study, researchers at York University's Centre for Vision Research found that an individual's interpretation of the direction of gravity can be altered by how their brain responds to visual information. Laurence Harris, a professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health and Meaghan McManus, a graduate student in his lab, found, using virtual reality, that people differ in how much they are influenced by their visual environment.

Harris and McManus say that this difference can help us better understand how individuals use visual information to interpret their environment and how they respond when performing other tasks. "These findings may also help us to better understand and predict why astronauts may misestimate how far they have moved in a given situation, especially in the microgravity of space," says Harris.

In this virtual reality-based study, McManus and Harris had their participants lie down in a virtual environment that was tilted so that the visual 'up' was above their head and not aligned with gravity. They found that the participants could be divided into two groups: one group who perceived they were standing up vertically (aligned with the visual scene) even though they were actually lying down, and a second group who maintained a more realistic idea of their lying position.

The researchers called the first group, 'Visual Reorientation Illusion vulnerable' (VRI-vulnerable). The two groups of participants, while in the same physical orientation and seeing the same scene, experienced simulated self-motion through the environment differently. Those that were VRI-vulnerable reported feeling that they were moving faster and further than those that were not. "Not only did the VRI-vulnerable group rely more on vision to tell them how they were oriented, but they also found visual motion to be more powerful in evoking the sensation of moving through the scene," added Harris.

The difference can help us better understand how individuals use visual...
The difference can help us better understand how individuals use visual information to interpret their environment and how they respond when performing other tasks.
Source: York University

"On Earth, the brain has to constantly decide whether a given acceleration is due to a person's movements or to gravity. This decision is helped by the fact that we normally move at right angles to gravity. But if a person's perception of gravity is altered by the visual environment or by removing gravity, this distinction becomes much harder."

"The findings reported in this paper could be helpful when we land people on the Moon again, on Mars, or on comets or asteroids, as low-gravity environments might lead some people to interpret their self-motion differently—with potentially catastrophic results," says Harris. 

The findings could also be helpful for virtual reality game designers, as certain virtual environments may lead to differences in how players interpret and move through the game. Researchers say that the findings may also inform models of how aging may affect the ability to move around and to balance.

The research has been published in PLoS One.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

VR study: our visual world of color is incorrect

VR study: our visual world of color is incorrect

A study finds that people are aware of surprisingly limited color in their peripheral vision; much of our sense of a colorful visual world is likely constructed by our brain.

VR supports the treatment of children with brain injury

VR supports the treatment of children with brain injury

Research confirms the efficiency of using computer-based programmes and virtual reality for improving children's attention and social skills.

Is virtual reality not suited to visual memory?

Is virtual reality not suited to visual memory?

Researchers have found that virtual reality may interfere with visual memory.

Barking up the wrong tree with virtual reality

Barking up the wrong tree with virtual reality

Researcher used virtual reality to trick 20 patients with with intermittent arterial claudication, and discovered that they could suddenly walk much further.

Virtual “moonwalk” for science

Virtual “moonwalk” for science

In order to orient ourselves in space, and to find our way around, we form mental maps of our surroundings. Scientists used VR to detect distortions in our spatial memory.

Brain may not need body movements to learn virtual spaces

Brain may not need body movements to learn virtual spaces

A new study enhances our understanding of how the brain learns in virtual reality.

Virtual treasure hunt shows brain maps time sequence of memories

Virtual treasure hunt shows brain maps time sequence of memories

Combining learning in virtual reality and brain scans, researchers describes how a temporal map of memories is created in the entorhinal cortex.

Cybersickness: research into VR-induced discomfort

Cybersickness: research into VR-induced discomfort

Researchers recorded VR users' brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG) to better understand and work toward solutions to prevent cybersickness.

A new  virtual reality cognitive assessment

A new virtual reality cognitive assessment

Researchers have created a virtual reality cognitive assessment to effectively test executive function in a real-world setting.

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter