Combined Influence of Visual Scene and Body Tilt on Arm Pointing Movements: Gravity Matters!

  • Di Cesare Cecile Scotto
  • Sarlegna Fabrice R.
  • Bourdin Christophe
  • Mestre Daniel R.
  • Bringoux Lionel


Performing accurate actions such as goal-directed arm movements requires taking into account visual and body orientation cues to localize the target in space and produce appropriate reaching motor commands. We experimentally tilted the body and/or the visual scene to investigate how visual and body orientation cues are combined for the control of unseen arm movements. Subjects were asked to point toward a visual target using an upward movement during slow body and/or visual scene tilts. When the scene was tilted, final pointing errors varied as a function of the direction of the scene tilt (forward or backward). Actual forward body tilt resulted in systematic target undershoots, suggesting that the brain may have overcompensated for the biomechanical movement facilitation arising from body tilt. Combined body and visual scene tilts also affected final pointing errors according to the orientation of the visual scene. The data were further analysed using either a body-centered or a gravity-centered reference frame to encode visual scene orientation with simple additive models (i.e., `combined' tilts equal to the sum of `single' tilts). We found that the body-centered model could account only for some of the data regarding kinematic parameters and final errors. In contrast, the gravity-centered modeling in which the body and visual scene orientations were referred to vertical could explain all of these data. Therefore, our findings suggest that the brain uses gravity, thanks to its invariant properties, as a reference for the combination of visual and non-visual cues.