Orientation in space is a perceptual variable intimately related to postural orientation that relies on visual and vestibular signals to correctly identify our position relative to vertical. We have combined a virtual environment with motion of a posture platform to produce visual-vestibular conditions that allow us to explore how motion of the visual environment may affect perception of vertical and, consequently, affect postural stabilizing responses. In order to involve a higher level perceptual process, we needed to create a visual environment that was immersive. We did this by developing visual scenes that possess contextual information using color, texture, and 3-dimensional structures. Update latency of the visual scene was close to physiological latencies of the vestibulo-ocular reflex. Using this system we found that even when healthy young adults stand and walk on a stable support surface, they are unable to ignore wide field of view visual motion and they adapt their postural orientation to the parameters of the visual motion. Balance training within our environment elicited measurable rehabilitation outcomes. Thus we believe that virtual environments can serve as a clinical tool for evaluation and training of movement in situations that closely reflect conditions found in the physical world.
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