The vestibular system: a spatial reference for bodily self-consciousness


Self-consciousness is the remarkable human experience of being a subject: the “I”. Self-consciousness is typically bound to a body, and particularly to the spatial dimensions of the body, as well as to its location and displacement in the gravitational field. Because the vestibular system encodes head position and movement in three-dimensional space, vestibular cortical processing likely contributes to spatial aspects of bodily self-consciousness. We review here recent data showing vestibular effects on first-person perspective (the feeling from where “I” experience the world) and self-location (the feeling where “I” am located in space). We compare these findings to data showing vestibular effects on mental spatial transformation, self-motion perception, and body representation showing vestibular contributions to various spatial representations of the body with respect to the external world. Finally, we discuss the role for four posterior brain regions that process vestibular and other multisensory signals to encode spatial aspects of bodily self-consciousness: temporoparietal junction, parietoinsular vestibular cortex, ventral intraparietal region, and medial superior temporal region. We propose that vestibular processing in these cortical regions is critical in linking multisensory signals from the body (personal and peripersonal space) with external (extrapersonal) space. Therefore, the vestibular system plays a critical role for neural representations of spatial aspects of bodily self-consciousness. © 2014 Pfeiffer, Serino and Blanke.

Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience