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Probabilistic analysis of spatial orientation for perception and action

Group leader: Paul MacNeilage
Address: Feodor-Lynen Str. 19, 81377 Munich, Germany
Tel. ++ 49 89 44007 7823
Fax ++ 49 89 44007 74801
Email: paul.macneilage(at)


Research Topics:

Spatial Orientation

Spatial orientation is our sense of movement through the world and orientation relative to the constant force of gravity. Many of our daily activities, including walking, driving, or riding a bike, depend critically on spatial orientation estimates that are continuously and effortlessly maintained by dedicated sensory and cognitive processes that most of us take for granted. The broad aim of research in my lab is to achieve a better understanding of these processes.


Visual and Vestibular Sensory Information

The best sensory information for estimating spatial orientation comes from visual and vestibular sensory systems. The vestibular system is composed of tiny, biomechanical linear and angular accelerometers in the inner ear. Visual information relevant to spatial orientation is derived primarily from optic flow, the characteristic pattern of visual motion generated when the eye moves relative to the stationary world.



A particular focus of research in the lab is to determine how precisely the nervous system can estimate motion and orientation based on visual and vestibular stimuli. We therefore measure detection and discrimination performance using a virtual reality motion simulator consisting of a hexapod motion platform and attached visual display.


Natural Statistics

Another focus is to quantify the natural statistical properties of visual and vestibular stimulation in real world environments. These measurements are made using a custom-made head-mounted device that records synchronized information about head motion, eye movements, and visual stimulation during everyday activities such as walking or riding a bike.


Probabilistic Modeling

Together, these measurements allow us to determine the dynamic range of natural stimulation and the corresponding dynamic range of human sensitivity. Such measurements are necessary prerequisites for modeling spatial orientation perception and action in a probabilistic (e.g. Bayesian) framework.


Related Publications

  •  Dokka K, Macneilage PR, Deangelis GC, Angelaki DE (2013) Multisensory Self-Motion Compensation During Object Trajectory Judgments. Cereb Cortex. Sep 22.
  • Agrawal Y, Bremova T, Kremmyda O, Strupp M, MacNeilage P (2013) Clinical Testing of Otolith Function: Perceptual Thresholds and Myogenic Potentials. JARO, Sept. 27

  • Cuturi LF, Macneilage PR (2013) Systematic biases in human heading estimation. PLoS One 8(2): e56862. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056862.

  • MacNeilage PR, Zhang Z, DeAngelis GC, Angelaki DE (2012) Vestibular facilitation of optic flow parsing. PLoS One 7(7): e40264. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040264.

  • Dokka K, MacNeilage PR, DeAngelis GD, Angelaki DE (2011) Estimating distance during self-motion: a role for visual-vestibular interactions. J Vis. 11(13).

  • MacNeilage, Banks, DeAngelis, Angelaki (2010) Vestibular heading discrimination and sensitivity to linear acceleration in head and world coordinates. J Neurosci 30(27):9084-9094.

  •  MacNeilage PR, Turner AH, Angelaki DE (2010). Canal-otolith interactions and detection thresholds of linear and angular components during curved-path self-motion. J Neurophysiol. 2010 Aug;104(2):765-73.

  • MacNeilage PR, Banks MS, DeAngelis GC, Angelaki DE (2010). Vestibular heading discrimination and sensitivity to linear acceleration in head and world coordinates. J Neurosci. 2010 Jul 7;30(27):9084-94.

  • MacNeilage PR, Ganesan N, Angelaki DE (2008). Computational approaches to spatial orientation: from transfer functions to dynamic Bayesian inference. J Neurophysiol. 100(6):2981-96.