Vestibular and Kinesthetic Senses

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  • 0:03 Sense and Movement
  • 0:45 Kinesthetic Sense
  • 2:12 Vestibular Sense
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we will learn about our kinesthetic and vestibular senses, which are responsible for things like movement and balance. We'll talk about what each of these senses do, and why we need them.

Sense and Movement

How can you tell when you're standing up versus lying down? Is there a difference between movement and motion? These might seem like odd questions, but they're actually getting at some very important ideas about sensation and perception! The fact that we can stand up, balance, and walk is the result of specialized systems in our bodies.

We are all familiar with the five main senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. But we also have two additional senses: kinesthetic and vestibular. These senses are important to our movement and balance in different ways. In this lesson, we'll talk about kinesthetic and vestibular senses, what each of them does, and why we need them.

Kinesthetic Sense

Kinesthetic sense is basically the sense of movement. It's all about how we can sense if our body is moving. It's an awareness of our own body in terms of things such as where our limbs are currently resting. It's also referred to as muscle memory. For example, you can raise your leg without looking at it, and you can continue typing even when you close your eyes. Proprioception is similar, but scientists think this might be related to our awareness or sense of movements, rather than the movements themselves. All of this is based on internal feedback in our body. In other words, it's quite different from something like sight, which relies on external signals from the world.

The entire nervous system, which is an assemblage of nerve cells that transmit signals from our brain and spinal cord to the rest of our body, is responsible for kinesthetic sense. In our muscles, joints, and tendons, we have neurons that respond to things like touch and pressure. These neurons work with other parts of our body to monitor our body's movement.

Kinesthetic sense is what allows us to know things like when we've reached a doorway we're walking toward, or how heavy an object is when we lift it up. Kinesthetic sense is very important to activities like sports. Imagine you're running down a soccer field with the ball in front of you. You wouldn't want to be looking down exclusively at the ball, right? You also need to look up at the goal and at the other players around you. Kinesthetic sense is what makes this possible.

Vestibular Sense

Vestibular sense is our sense of balance. Where kinesthetic sense deals with our actual movements, like lifting a leg or an arm, vestibular sense has more to do with our movement in relation to the external world. Here's an example to illustrate the difference. You can close your eyes, and you'll still be able to complete kinesthetic movements, like lifting your hand to your face. But you can't spin around and around in a circle with your eyes closed without losing your balance. This is why dancers must keep their eyes open and fixed on a stable object in order to complete this movement.

So vestibular sense is all about things in our external world; we need it to keep our balance, or our body's equilibrium. In order to maintain balance, we need input from a few different places, but the major component is the inner ear. Our vestibular system is located in our inner ear, which is filled with tiny hair cells that communicate information about our balance.

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