The perception of self-motion is crucial for navigation, spatial orientation and motor control. In particular, estimation of one's direction of translation, or heading, relies heavily on multisensory integration in most natural situations. Visual and nonvisual (e.g., vestibular) information can be used to judge heading, but each modality alone is often insufficient for accurate performance. It is not surprising, then, that visual and vestibular signals converge frequently in the nervous system, and that these signals interact in powerful ways at the level of behavior and perception. Early behavioral studies of visual-vestibular interactions consisted mainly of descriptive accounts of perceptual illusions and qualitative estimation tasks, often with conflicting results. In contrast, cue integration research in other modalities has benefited from the application of rigorous psychophysical techniques, guided by normative models that rest on the foundation of ideal-observer analysis and Bayesian decision theory. Here we review recent experiments that have attempted to harness these so-called optimal cue integration models for the study of self-motion perception. Some of these studies used nonhuman primate subjects, enabling direct comparisons between behavioral performance and simultaneously recorded neuronal activity. The results indicate that humans and monkeys can integrate visual and vestibular heading cues in a manner consistent with optimal integration theory, and that single neurons in the dorsal medial superior temporal area show striking correlates of the behavioral effects. This line of research and other applications of normative cue combination models should continue to shed light on mechanisms of self-motion perception and the neuronal basis of multisensory integration.
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