Multisensory Interactions in Virtual Reality: Optic flow reduces vestibular sensitivity, but only for congruent planes of motion

posted on 20.01.2020 by Maria Gallagher, Reno Choi, Elisa Raffaella Ferrè

During exposure to Virtual Reality (VR) a sensory conflict may be present, whereby the visual system signals that the user is moving in a certain direction with a certain acceleration, while the vestibular system signals that the user is stationary. In order to reduce this conflict, the brain may down-weight vestibular signals, which may in turn affect vestibular contributions to self-motion perception. Here we investigated whether vestibular perceptual sensitivity is affected by VR exposure. Participants’ ability to detect artificial vestibular inputs was measured during optic flow or random motion stimuli on a VR head-mounted display. Sensitivity to vestibular signals was significantly reduced when optic flow stimuli were presented, but importantly this was only the case when both visual and vestibular cues conveyed information on the same plane of self-motion. Our results suggest that the brain dynamically adjusts the weight given to incoming sensory cues for self-motion in VR; however this is dependent on the congruency of visual and vestibular cues.