How does the brain see up and down in space?

Many of us dream of going to space. Yet, according to astronauts and cosmonauts, it is far from being a piece of cake. Although one can imagine the vastness of space, did you know that most space travelers suffer from spatial disorientation problems?

Indeed, as Universe Today reports to us, once up there, it is difficult to orientate yourself and, more precisely, to no longer know where is the top and the bottom. Some woke up dizzy and some astronauts even felt lost when they stepped out into space.

How Does The Brain See Up And Down In Space
Photo by Pete Linforth. Pixabay credits

On Earth, sensors in the inner ear detect gravity and signal information about the orientation of our body to the brain. But what about in space?

Our orientation depends on the visual information our brain receives

Researchers at the Center for Vision Research at York University conducted a new study and found that our interpretation of the direction of gravity can be altered by how our brains react to visual information. So what appears to be the top may be seen as another direction depending on how our brain processes our orientation.

According to the researchers, people are strongly influenced by their visual environment. They found that this information can help understand how people use visual information to understand and interact with their surroundings.

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Visual information influenced participants' sense of direction

To arrive at these conclusions, the scientists asked participants to put on virtual reality headsets and then lie down in an inclined environment so that the top should be above their heads. They then showed scenes of oriented corridor and a star field roof by varying the body posture of the participants and the orientation of their head.

Although all the participants saw the same scenes, with the same orientations of their bodies, their reactions were different. Some maintained a realistic idea of their lying position while others believed they were standing, aligned with the visual scene, even though in reality they were lying down.

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Our brain can easily adapt to visual information

In any case, astronauts rely on tips and procedures to have a common sense of direction. For example, on the International Space Station, all modules are put “ up ”, all writes go in the same direction, and computers are pointed in the same direction.

Interestingly enough, scientists have found that our brains adapt quickly, trust the eyes, and align signals from the vestibular system. Thus, the faster a person learns to trust visual cues, the faster they can orient themselves. According to the researchers:

The results reported in this article could be useful when we land again on the Moon or Mars or comets or asteroids as low gravity environments could cause some people to interpret their personal movement differently with potentially catastrophic results.

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