Friday, 19 July 2013

Proprioception and fear of heights

I've always had trouble with heights.

It's not a conscious train of thought, perhaps one that goes "I have poor balance and motor skills, therefore am more likely to fall, therefore I should exercise more caution than most people in situations where I could fall off something and hurt myself".

It's an entirely instinctive thing, or unconscious, or whatever it is it's outside my control.

Enter James May, and the discussion of proprioception and vestibular sense that starts at 3:20 in this video:

Basically, the gist of the theory is that people with an extreme fear of heights may be more than usually reliant on their visual sense, as opposed to proprioceptive and vestibular sense.  As you get higher and higher, there are fewer visual landmarks to help you orient yourself, meaning your system is less able to regulate your balance.  Result - a scary unbalanced fall-y feeling, and an apparently height-induced freak out.

I don't know whether I'm more reliant on vision than others to regulate my balance.  But since neither proprioception nor vestibular sense really pull their weight with me, it stands to reason I might be.  And while I'm very aware of the everyday shenanigans these underperforming senses cause - the bumping into things, the over- and under-reaching because my arm's not where I thought it was, the having to take some time every morning when I first wake up to work out where my legs are - I hadn't thought about it extending to things like this.

The more you know.

Image: base from the Powerhouse Museum via Flickr Commons, inset Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.