Spatial cognition, body representation and affective processes: the role of vestibular information beyond ocular reflexes and control of posture

Mast, Fred W.; Preuss, Nora; Hartmann, Matthias; Grabherr, Luzia (2014). Spatial cognition, body representation and affective processes: the role of vestibular information beyond ocular reflexes and control of posture. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 8 10.3389/fnint.2014.00044

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A growing number of studies in humans demonstrate the involvement of vestibular information in tasks that are seemingly remote from well-known functions such as space constancy or postural control. In this review article we point out three emerging streams of research highlighting the importance of vestibular input: (1) Spatial Cognition: Modulation of vestibular signals can induce specific changes in spatial cognitive tasks like mental imagery and the processing of numbers. This has been shown in studies manipulating body orientation (changing the input from the otoliths), body rotation (changing the input from the semicircular canals), in clinical findings with vestibular patients, and in studies carried out in microgravity. There is also an effect in the reverse direction; top-down processes can affect perception of vestibular stimuli. (2) Body Representation: Numerous studies demonstrate that vestibular stimulation changes the representation of body parts, and sensitivity to tactile input or pain. Thus, the vestibular system plays an integral role in multisensory coordination of body representation. (3) Affective Processes and Disorders: Studies in psychiatric patients and patients with a vestibular disorder report a high comorbidity of vestibular dysfunctions and psychiatric symptoms. Recent studies investigated the beneficial effect of vestibular stimulation on psychiatric disorders, and how vestibular input can change mood and affect. These three emerging streams of research in vestibular science are—at least in part—associated with different neuronal core mechanisms. Spatial transformations draw on parietal areas, body representation is associated with somatosensory areas, and affective processes involve insular and cingulate cortices, all of which receive vestibular input. Even though a wide range of different vestibular cortical projection areas has been ascertained, their functionality still is scarcely understood.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology, Perception and Methodology
10 Strategic Research Centers > Center for Cognition, Learning and Memory (CCLM)

UniBE Contributor:

Mast, Fred, Preuss, Nora, Maalouli-Hartmann, Matthias


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology






Anna Maria Ruprecht Künzli

Date Deposited:

01 Dec 2014 11:14

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:25

Publisher DOI:





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