Predictive Sensing: The Role of Motor Signals in Sensory Processing

Jessica X. Brooks, Kathleen Cullen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


The strategy of integrating motor signals with sensory information during voluntary behavior is a general feature of sensory processing. It is required to distinguish externally applied (exafferent) from self-generated (reafferent) sensory inputs. This distinction, in turn, underlies our ability to achieve both perceptual stability and accurate motor control during everyday activities. In this review, we consider the results of recent experiments that have provided circuit-level insight into how motor-related inputs to sensory areas selectively cancel self-generated sensory inputs during active behaviors. These studies have revealed both common strategies and important differences across systems. Sensory reafference is suppressed at the earliest stages of central processing in the somatosensory, vestibular, and auditory systems, with the cerebellum and cerebellum-like structures playing key roles. Furthermore, motor-related inputs can also suppress reafferent responses at higher levels of processing such as the cortex—a strategy preferentially used in visual processing. These recent findings have important implications for understanding how the brain achieves the flexibility required to continuously calibrate relationships between motor signals and the resultant sensory feedback, a computation necessary for our subjective awareness that we control both our actions and their sensory consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)842-850
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019



  • Active sensing
  • Cerebellum
  • Corollary discharge
  • Efference copy
  • Internal model
  • Prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry

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