This article is part of the Research Topic Cognitive control, uncertainty and the brain

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 07 December 2010 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00221

Multi-sensory weights depend on contextual noise in reference frame transformations

Jessica Katherine Burns1,2 and Gunnar Blohm1,2*
  • 1 Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada
  • 2 Canadian Action and Perception Network (CAPnet), Canada

During reach planning, we integrate multiple senses to estimate the location of the hand and the target, which is used to generate a movement. Visual and proprioceptive information are combined to determine the location of the hand. The goal of this study was to investigate whether multi-sensory integration is affected by extraretinal signals, such as head roll. It is believed that a coordinate matching transformation is required before vision and proprioception can be combined because proprioceptive and visual sensory reference frames do not generally align. This transformation utilizes extraretinal signals about current head roll position, i.e., to rotate proprioceptive signals into visual coordinates. Since head roll is an estimated sensory signal with noise, this head roll dependency of the reference frame transformation should introduce additional noise to the transformed signal, reducing its reliability and thus its weight in the multi-sensory integration. To investigate the role of noisy reference frame transformations on multi-sensory weighting, we developed a novel probabilistic (Bayesian) multi-sensory integration model (based on Sober and Sabes, 2003) that included explicit (noisy) reference frame transformations. We then performed a reaching experiment to test the model’s predictions. To test for head roll dependent multi-sensory integration, we introduced conflicts between viewed and actual hand position and measured reach errors. Reach analysis revealed that eccentric head roll orientations led to an increase of movement variability, consistent with our model. We further found that the weighting of vision and proprioception depended on head roll, which we interpret as being a result of signal dependant noise. Thus, the brain has online knowledge of the statistics of its internal sensory representations. In summary, we show that sensory reliability is used in a context-dependent way to adjust multi-sensory integration weights for reaching.

Keywords: reaching, Bayesian integration, multi-sensory, proprioception, vision, context, head roll, reference frames

Citation: Blohm G and Burns JK (2010) Multi-sensory weights depend on contextual noise in reference frame transformations. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 4:221. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00221

Received: 19 August 2010; Accepted: 04 November 2010;
Published online: 07 December 2010.

Edited by:

Francisco Barcelo, University of Illes Balears, Spain

Reviewed by:

Konrad Koerding, Northwestern University, USA
Samuel Sober, Emory University, USA

Copyright: © 2010 Blohm and Burns. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and the Frontiers Research Foundation, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Gunnar Blohm, Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6. e-mail:

Back to top