What may affect your balance?

    • Topic: Human Biology

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Keeping your balance depends on using your senses. What you see and how your feet and legs sense the ground tell you important information about the world around you. Did you know that part of your inner ear called the vestibular system (left half of above picture), is also important for balance?

    In this study, people test their balance in four different ways. First, you will be asked to take your shoes off and stand with your feet together and eyes open. In the second test, visual cues are removed by closing your eyes. In the third test, your eyes will be open, but now the cues from your legs will be taken away by having you stand on a squishy foam mat. Finally, you will stand on the mat with your eyes closed so that only your vestibular system can help you balance. Each test should be a little bit harder than the previous one. We expect most people to complete all tests, but difficulty is common.

    We hope our results will help improve the clinical tests used to test patients suffering from dizziness, imbalance, vertigo, and other vestibular symptoms.

    This research is conducted at Museum of Science, Boston by the Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary – jvpl@meei.harvard.edu. This project is funded in part by the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD).

        » Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Is Your Balance as Good as it Gets?

    Find this link station activity in the Time environment. Just like breathing, most people don’t pay much attention to their balance. Use your balance to navigate a virtual ball through a maze and then look at your results with those of other Museum visitors. Watch a friend do the activity and see if they control their balance differently. What did you notice?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Take Yourself for a Spin

    In an open space with plenty of room, try spinning around in a circle five to ten times and then stop suddenly. When you stop, look at a stationary point on the wall, what happens to your vision? Does it feel like the room is still spinning? Which way does the room seem to spin?

    You feel dizzy when your senses send conflicting signals to your brain. Your eyes and feet are good at distinguishing prolonged spinning from not spinning, but your vestibular system is not. The tubes in your vestibular system are filled with fluid that moves around as you move. When you start spinning the fluid moves one way and when you stop it moves in the other direction. This sends a confusing signal to your brain when you stop spinning – it’s the same signal your brain would get if you had started spinning in the opposite direction.

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