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Optic flow detection is not influenced by visual-vestibular congruency
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Optic flow patterns generated by self-motion relative to the stationary environment result in congruent visual-vestibular self-motion signals. Incongruent signals can arise due to object motion, vestibular dysfunction, or artificial stimulation, which are less common. Hence, we are predominantly exposed to congruent rather than incongruent visual-vestibular stimulation. If the brain takes advantage of this probabilistic association, we expect observers to be more sensitive to visual optic flow that is congruent with ongoing vestibular stimulation. We tested this expectation by measuring the motion coherence threshold, which is the percentage of signal versus noise dots, necessary to detect an optic flow pattern. Observers seated on a hexapod motion platform in front of a screen experienced two sequential intervals. One interval contained optic flow with a given motion coherence and the other contained noise dots only. Observers had to indicate which interval contained the optic flow pattern. The motion coherence threshold was measured for detection of laminar and radial optic flow during leftward/rightward and fore/aft linear self-motion, respectively. We observed no dependence of coherence thresholds on vestibular congruency for either radial or laminar optic flow. Prior studies using similar methods reported both decreases and increases in coherence thresholds in response to congruent vestibular stimulationour results do not confirm either of these prior reports. While methodological differences may explain the diversity of results, another possibility is that motion coherence thresholds are mediated by neural populations that are either not modulated by vestibular stimulation or that are modulated in a manner that does not depend on congruency.