If you have ever been caught driving intoxicated, then you have probably been asked to either walk in a straight line or touch your nose with your eyes closed. If you are drunk, then chances are that your kinesthetic sense will fail you and you will not be able to locate your nose. Kinesthetic sense or proprioception, as it is more widely known is the type of sense that allows you to judge correctly the position of the different parts of the body, in relativity to one body part. Other than the five basic senses, sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing, that we all are aware of, there are some other senses that are essential to the human system. These includes the sense of temperature, balance and equilibrium, direction, pain, internal senses and proprioception. This type of sense is the only one that provides us with feedback based on the internal status of the body. It lets us know, whether the body moves with effort and where the body parts are located, in relation to other parts of the body.
Now that we know in brief, what this sense is and what it detects, let us try and understand this sense modality in more detail. Though used interchangeably, kinesthetic sense and proprioception have a slight difference, which is the greater importance that kinesthetic sense gives to movement. Also, this sense has little to do with balance or equilibrium, which is more of a proprioceptive sense. This confusion in the definition of the terms is a result of the original description of kinesthetic sense under proprioception. It is though assumed by most researchers, that if one of these senses is affected, it also affects the other sense and therefore, it is completely logical to club the two terms together.
Kinesthetic sense is closely related to muscle memory, which is the memory that we possess due to constant repetition of a motor task, for example signing your name or walking. Hand eye coordination is also largely related to the sense of kinesthesia. This sense becomes automatic because of constant training. So, how does this sense work. According to researchers, kinesthetic sense works by activating a receptor of proprioceptory senses in the periphery. The information that this sense receives, comes from the neurons located in the inner ear, which determines our balance. This sense also receives information from receptors in the muscles and ligaments. The receptors for the proprioceptory senses are called proprioceptors. Recent research has shown that the sense that allows us to recognize objects by touching them is also based on the sense of kinesthesia. This is called haptic perception.
J.C. Scaliger originally described the sense of locomotion or the position-movement sensation that we know it as in 1557. In 1826, Charles Bell came up with the idea that there were directions and information that was being carried to the brain from the muscles and vice versa. He also came up with the term, muscle sense. H.C. Bastian coined the term kinesthesia, on the basis of the fact that some of the information to the brain was coming from other body structures like ligaments and tendons. This was in the year 1880, and in the year 1889, Alfred Goldscheider classified this sense of kinesthesia into muscle, articular and tendon senses. But it was with the work of C.S. Sherington that terms, proprioception and kinesthesia became widely known. He classified receptors as interoceptors and externoceptors, the former giving information about internal organs and the latter providing information from outer body parts.
Kinesthetic Sense: Application
It is applied to a huge range of fields. As mentioned earlier in this article, proper kinesthetic sense of a person helps determine sobriety of a person. If you are sober, then you will make an error of less than 20 mm but if you are intoxicated, then you will definitely face difficulty in locating your limbs with relation to their other body parts. Kinesthetic sense, because of its visual and tactile sense, is also used to create tests for the diagnosis of nerve disorders. Kinesthetic learners actually learn new tasks, by doing them constantly. It allows them to walk in the dark or learn a new skill like painting, which is highly dependent on the proprioceptive senses of a person. Skills like driving, walking, etc are all examples of this sense.
Researchers believe that kinesthetic sense or proprioceptive sense can be heightened by training it or by using methods like meditation. Even disciplinary activities like Yoga and Tai Chi help in improving your body's sense of kinesthetics. You can challenge your sense of kinesthesia by doing these activities with closed eyes, as your sense of sight helps you gain information which is essential in maintaining balance.
Like the other five main senses that we depend wholly on, this sense is also important to maintain our sense of balance and motion.