Perception of Arm Position in Three-Dimensional Space

Joshua Klein, Bryan Whitsell, Panagiotis Artemiadis, Christopher Buneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Proprioception refers to the senses of body position, movement, force and effort. Previous studies have demonstrated workspace and direction-dependent differences in arm proprioceptive sensitivity within the horizontal plane. In addition, studies of reaching in the vertical plane have shown that proprioception plays a key role in anticipating arm configuration dependent effects of gravity. This suggests that proprioceptive sensitivity could vary with the direction of arm displacement relative to the gravitational vector, as well as with arm configuration. To test these hypotheses, and to characterize proprioception more generally, we assessed the direction-dependence and arm postural-dependence of proprioceptive sensitivity in 3D space using a novel robotic paradigm. A subject’s right arm was coupled to a 7-df robot through a trough that stabilized the wrist and forearm, allowing for changes in configuration largely at the elbow and shoulder. Sensitivity was evaluated using a “same-different” task, where the subject’s hand was moved 1–4 cm away from an initial “test” position to a 2nd “judgment” position. The proportion of trials where subjects responded “different” when the positions were different (“hit rate”), and where they responded “different” when the positions were the same, (“false alarm rate”), were used to calculate d’, a measure of sensitivity derived from signal detection theory (SDT). Initially, a single initial arm posture was used and displacements were performed in six directions: upward, downward, forward, backward, leftward and rightward of the test position. In a follow-up experiment, data were obtained for four directions and two initial arm postures. As expected, sensitivity (d’) increased monotonically with distance for all six directions. Sensitivity also varied between directions, particularly at position differences of 2 and 3 cm. Overall, sensitivity reached near maximal values in this task at 2 cm for the leftward/rightward directions, 3 cm for upward/forward and 4 cm for the downward/backward directions. In addition, when data were grouped together for opposing directions, sensitivity showed a dependence upon arm posture. These data suggest arm proprioceptive sensitivity is both anisotropic in 3D space and configuration-dependent, which has important implications for sensorimotor control of the arm and human-robot interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number331
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Aug 21 2018


  • Position sense
  • Proprioception
  • Psychophysics
  • Rehabilitation
  • Robotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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