Objective: Caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS) has traditionally been used as a tool for neurological diagnosis. More recently, however, it has been applied to a range of phenomena within the cognitive neurosciences. Here, we provide an overview of such studies and review our work using CVS to investigate the neural mechanisms of a visual phenomenon – binocular rivalry. We outline the interhemispheric switch model of rivalry supported by this work and its extension to a metarivalry model of interocular-grouping phenomena. In addition, studies showing a slow rate of binocular rivalry in bipolar disorder are discussed, and the relationship between this finding and the interhemispheric switch model is described. We also review the effects of CVS in various clinical contexts, explain how the technique is performed and discuss methodological issues in its application.
Methods: A review of CVS and related literature was conducted.
Results: Despite CVS being employed with surprising effect in a wide variety of cognitive and clinical contexts, it has been a largely underutilized brain stimulation method for both exploratory and therapeutic purposes. This is particularly so given that it is well tolerated, safe, inexpensive and easy to administer.
Conclusion: CVS can be used to investigate various cognitive phenomena including perceptual rivalry, attention and mood, as well as somatosensory representation, belief, hemispheric laterality and pain. The technique can also be used to investigate clinical conditions related to these phenomena and may indeed have therapeutic utility, especially with respect to postlesional disorders, mania, depression and chronic pain states. Furthermore, we propose that based on existing reports of the phenomenological effects of CVS and the brain regions it is known to activate, the technique could be used to investigate and potentially treat a range of other clinical disorders. Finally, the effects of CVS (and its potential effects) on several phenomena of interest to philosophy suggest that it is also likely to become a useful tool in experimental neurophilosophy.