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The Vestibulo-Auricular Reflex

By Daniel J. Tollin, Janet L. Ruhland and Tom C. T. Yin


The mammalian orienting response to sounds consists of a gaze shift that can be a combination of head and eye movements. In animals with mobile pinnae, the ears also move. During head movements, vision is stabilized by compensatory rotations of the eyeball within the head because of the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). While studying the gaze shifts made by cats to sounds, a previously uncharacterized compensatory movement was discovered. The pinnae exhibited short-latency, goal-directed movements that reached their target while the head was still moving. The pinnae maintained a fixed position in space by counter-rotating on the head with an equal but opposite velocity to the head movement. We call these compensatory ear movements the vestibulo-auricular reflex (VAR) because they shared many kinematic characteristics with the VOR. Control experiments ruled out efference copy of head position signals and acoustic tracking (audiokinetic) of the source as the cause of the response. The VAR may serve to stabilize the auditory world during head movements

Topics: Articles
Publisher: American Physiological Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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