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Muscle Vibration-Induced Illusions: Review of Contributing Factors, Taxonomy of Illusions and User’s Guide

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Limb muscle vibration creates an illusory limb movement in the direction corresponding to lengthening of the vibrated muscle. Neck muscle vibration results in illusory motion of visual and auditory stimuli. Attributed to the activation of muscle spindles, these and related effects are of great interest as a tool in research on proprioception, for rehabilitation of sensorimotor function and for multisensory immersive virtual environments. However, these illusions are not easy to elicit in a consistent manner. We review factors that influence them, propose their classification in a scheme that links this area of research to perception theory, and provide practical suggestions to researchers. Local factors that determine the illusory effect of vibration include properties of the vibration stimulus such as its frequency, amplitude and duration, and properties of the vibrated muscle, such as contraction and fatigue. Contextual (gestalt) factors concern the relationship of the vibrated body part to the rest of the body and the environment. Tactile and visual cues play an important role, and so does movement, imagined or real. The best-known vibration illusions concern one’s own body and can be classified as ‘first-order’ due to a direct link between activity in muscle spindles and the percept. More complex illusions involve other sensory modalities and external objects, and provide important clues regarding the hidden role of proprioception, our ‘silent’ sense. Our taxonomy makes explicit this and other distinctions between different illusory effects. We include User’s Guide with tips for anyone wishing to conduct a vibration study.

Affiliations: 1: 1Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, 75 East St, Lidcombe 2141 NSW, Sydney, Australia ; 2: 2Neuroscience Research Australia, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

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