Shake and Read

A large blue and red cube frame that has purple and green information banners hanging between top and bottom bars of the cube.

Signals generated by the inner ear and eye positions are combined to maintain visual focus.

How it works

Follow graphic panel instructions about reading text while performing certain actions.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Can you read something that’s shaking?!
  • What would be the advantage of being able to focus your vision while your head is moving?

Background

When you shake your head, a reflex signal is sent from your inner ears to your eyes, to make your eyes move the same distance, but in the opposite direction to your shaking head. This (vestibular-ocular) reflex allows your eyes to keep track of the world as you move around.

When your friend gently shakes your head, you can’t predict how your head will move, but your reflex response still allows your eyes to adjust, so you can still read.

Finding the science in your world

When the vestibular-ocular system generates mismatching signals, you feel dizzy or off-balance, usually because fluid within the inner ear's vestibular system is moving and sending the signal that your body is moving in space, while your eyes are sending signals that your environment is relatively stationary.