“What” versus “How” in Nonvisual Whole-Body Movement


Dissociable processes for conscious perception (“what” processing) and guidance of action (“how” processing) have been identified in visual, auditory, and somatosensory systems. The present study was designed to find similar dissociation within whole-body movements in which the presence of vestibular information creates a unique perceptual condition. In two experiments, blindfolded participants walked along a linear path and specified the walked distance by verbally estimating it (“what” measure) and by pulling a length of tape that matched the walked distance (“how” measure). Although these two measures yielded largely comparable responses under a normal walking condition, variability in verbal estimates showed a qualitatively different pattern from that in tape-pulling when sensory input into walking was altered by having participants wear a heavy backpack. This suggests that the “what” versus “how” dissociation exists in whole-body movements as well, supporting a claim that it is a general principle with which perceptual systems are organized.

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