Kinesthetic Senses vs. Vestibular Senses

Mary Ellise Schiffer, Emily Cummins
  • Author
    Mary Ellise Schiffer

    Mary Ellise has a M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy and a B.A. in Earth Systems Science from Clark University. She has taught science and writing to students in grades kindergarten through college.

  • Instructor
    Emily Cummins

    Emily Cummins received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and French Literature and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology. She has instructor experience at Northeastern University and New Mexico State University, teaching courses on Sociology, Anthropology, Social Research Methods, Social Inequality, and Statistics for Social Research.

Discover kinesthetic sense and vestibular sense. Study kinesthesia by learning its definition, discover the differences between kinesthesis and vestibular sense, and examine vestibular and kinesthetic sense examples. Updated: 02/01/2022

Table of Contents


What Is Kinesthetic Sense?

Bodily awareness and balance are important components of navigating the world and interacting with objects. Without kinesthetic and vestibular senses, humans would struggle to remain upright and walk, or type or play sports and instruments.

  • Kinesthetic sense, aided by proprioception, involves the awareness of bodily position and movement without visual aid, a trait sometimes called muscle memory.
  • Vestibular sense refers to sense of balance (equilibrium), orientation, and posture. Semicircular canals and vestibular sacs are key sensory organs in the vestibular system, located within the inner ear.

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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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Kinesthesia - Definition

The kinesthetic system involves two separate senses: limb movement (kinesthesia) and limb position (proprioception).

Kinesthesia is awareness of how parts of the body are moving. This bodily sense movement is made possible by sensory receptors in the joints and muscles. Kinesthesia focuses on perceiving movement in the body.

Proprioception is the sense of bodily position and effort needed for movement. For example, pianists use proprioception to know where their fingers are positioned and how hard to press on the keys. Sensory receptors, known as proprioceptors, gather information about joint and limb position. An important part of proprioception is joint position sense (JPS), which is the ability to perceive the position of a joint without looking.

What is kinesthetic sense? Kinesthetic sense is the ability to sense movement and body position without visual aid. Kinesthetic sense is sometimes referred to as muscle memory. Kinesthetic sense involves both kinesthesia and proprioception.

Kinesthetic sense helps people walk without looking at their feet and type without looking at the keyboard. A soccer player running the ball down the field while looking at the goal and other players is using kinesthetic sense.

Kinesthetic Sensation and the Kinesthetic System

Kinesthetic sense is how humans feel and perceive movement and position. The kinesthetic system involves various receptors in joint and tendon connective tissues that detect sensory signals and send messages to the brain's sensory cortex via the nervous system. The brain then perceives the movement and position of the joint or limb. Proprioceptors, receptors that detect position and pressure, are particularly important to kinesthesia.

Kinesthesis and the Vestibular Sense - Definition

Kinesthesis and vestibular sense are similar, but have distinct differences. While kinesthetic sense has to do with sensing movement and position of body parts, vestibular sense detects movement in relation to gravity and the environment.

Balance (equilibrium), orientation, and posture are main components of vestibular sense. Vestibular sense is sometimes referred to as "sense of balance." Balance is the ability to stay upright and stable. For example, dancers must keep their eyes open and fixed on a stable spot to maintain balance during a spin. An important feature of vestibular sense is the ability to stabilize the head and body while in motion.

The Vestibular System

Sensation occurs when sensory organs detect sensory stimuli. The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, has two main sensory receptors: semicircular canals and vestibular sacs. The vestibular system is crucial in maintaining equilibrium, or balance.

The human ear. The semicircular canals and vestibular nerve are important components of sensation in the vestibular system. Note the cochlea, involved in hearing, below the semicircular canal.

Diagram of the human ear. Of note are the three semicircular canals, and offshoot vestibular nerve.

Semicircular canals are small, fluid-filled canals that detect how the body is moving in relation to gravity. They also sense angular motion, which is side-to-side head rotation, such as shaking the head "no."

Below the semicircular canal are vestibular sacs, the utricle and saccule. The vestibular sacs detect linear motion, such as the feeling of acceleration or deceleration in a car. They also detect spatial orientation, or the position of the head in space.

For sensation to become perception, receptors on sensory organs must send signals to the brain.

  • The information from the semicircular canals and vestibular sacs is picked up by tiny hair cells. These cells encode the sensory input into a nerve signal, a readable message.
  • The vestibulocochlear nerve sends this signal to the brain via the nervous system.
  • In the brain, the central vestibular system interprets the message, and balance (equilibrium) is perceived.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does kinesthesia mean?

Kinesthesia means being aware of where parts of the body are (position) and how they are moving (movement). Kinesthesia especially focuses on feeling the movement of joints and limbs.

What is an example of kinesthesia?

An example of kinesthesia is playing sports. A soccer player is able to move the soccer ball down the field while looking at the goal and other players instead of their feet.

What is the difference between proprioception and kinanesthesia?

Kinesthesia focuses on perceiving movements in the body, while proprioception has more to do with sensing position. Proprioception is related to receptors called proprioceptors.

Where does kinesthetic sense occur?

Kinesthetic sense begins with sensory receptors in joint and tendon connective tissues. Signals about movement and position are sent to the sensory cortex via the nervous system, where this information is perceived.

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