Speedy Vestibular Sense: Try This!

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Originally posted on September 15, 2016.

With thanks to Christopher Platt (NIDCD Director of Hearing and Balance programs), here’s a simple demonstration of our super-speedy vestibular system. As you have surely noticed, if you slip, your vestibular sensors automatically, in a microsecond, direct your skeletal response—well before you have consciously decided how to right yourself.

Our vestibular sense is even faster than our visual sense. Try this, suggests Platt: Hold one of your thumbs in front of your face, then move it rapidly right to left and back. Notice how your thumb blurs. (Your vision isn’t fast enough to track it.)

Now hold your thumb still and swivel your head from left to right. Voila! Your thumb stays in focus, because your vestibular system, which is monitoring your head position, speedily moves the eyes. Head moves right, eyes move left. Vision is fast, but the vestibular sense is faster.

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).