Vestibular contribution to the planning of reach trajectories

Christopher J. Bockisch, Thomas Haslwanter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Reaching for an object while simultaneously rotating induces Coriolis and centrifugal inertial forces on the arm that require compensatory actions to maintain accuracy. We investigated whether the nervous system uses vestibular signals of head rotation to predict inertial forces. Human subjects reached in darkness to a remembered target 33 cm distant. Subjects were stationary, but experienced a strong vestibular rotation signal. We achieved this by rotating subjects at 360 degrees /s in yaw for 2 min and then stopping, and subjects reached during the 'post-rotary' period when the deceleration is interpreted by the vestibular system as a rotation in the opposite direction. Arm trajectories were straight in control trials without a rotary stimulus. With vestibular stimulation, trajectory curvature increased an average of 3 cm in the direction of the vestibular stimulation (e.g., to the right for a rightward yaw stimulus). Vestibular-induced curvature returned rapidly to normal, with an average time constant of 6 s. Movements also became longer as the vestibular stimulus diminished, and returned towards normal length with an average time constant of 5.6 s. In a second experiment we compared reaching with preferred and non-preferred hands, and found that they were similarly affected by vestibular stimulation. The reach curvatures were in the expected direction if the nervous system anticipated and attempted to counteract the presence of Coriolis forces based on the vestibular signals. Similarly, the shorter reaches may have occurred because the nervous system was attempting to compensate for an expected centrifugal force. Since vestibular stimulation also alters the perceived location of targets, vestibular signals probably influence all stages of the sensorimotor pathway transforming the desired goal of a reach into specific motor-unit innervation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-397
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007


  • Centrifugal
  • Coriolis
  • Inertial forces
  • Motor control
  • Reaching
  • Vestibular system
  • Humans
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth/physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Kinesthesis
  • Rotation
  • Arm/physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Reaction Time/physiology
  • Postural Balance/physiology
  • Coriolis Force
  • Intention
  • Acceleration
  • Psychomotor Performance/physiology
  • Movement/physiology


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