After a prolonged static whole-body roll-tilt, a significant bias of the internal estimates of the direction of gravity has been observed when assessing the subjective visual vertical.
We hypothesized that this post-tilt bias represents a more general phenomenon, broadly affecting spatial orientation and navigation. Specifically, we predicted that after the prolonged roll-tilt to either side perceived straight-ahead would also be biased.
Twenty-five healthy participants were asked to rest in three different lying positions (supine, right-ear-down, and left-ear-down) for 5 min (“adaptation period”) prior to walking straight-ahead blindfolded for 2 min. Walking was recorded with the inertial measurement unit sensors attached to different body locations and with sensor shoe insoles. The raw data was segmented with a gait–event detection method. The Heading direction was determined and linear mixed-effects models were used for statistical analyses.
A significant bias in heading into the direction of the previous roll-tilt position was observed in the post-adaptation trials. This bias was identified in both measurement systems and decreased again over the 2-min walking period.
The bias observed further confirms the influence of prior knowledge on spatial orientation and navigation. Specifically, it underlines the broad impact of a shifting internal estimate of direction of gravity over a range of distinct paradigms, illustrating similar decay time constants. In the broader context, the observed bias in perceived straight-ahead emphasizes that getting up in the morning after a good night’s sleep is a vulnerable period, with an increased risk of falls and fall-related injuries due to non-availability of optimally tuned internal estimates of the direction of gravity and the direction of straight-ahead.