Proprioception is the sense of the orientation and relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and the strength of effort being employed in movement.
It is distinguished from exteroception, by which we perceive the outside world, and interoception, by which we perceive pain, hunger, etc., and the movement of internal organs.
The word kinesthesia (kinaesthesia, kinesthetics) is sometimes used interchangeably with proprioception, but, strictly speaking, kinesthesia is the sense of body motion rather than position. Kinesthesia and proprioception are very closely interrelated, and on this site they will combined under the general heading of proprioception.
Proprioception doesn’t come from any specific organ, but from the nervous system as a whole. Its input comes from nerves from inside the body rather than on the surface.
Proprioceptive ability can be trained, as can any motor activity.
Proprioception is a key component in so-called “muscle memory” and in hand-eye coordination. The ability to swing a golf club or to catch a ball requires a finely tuned sense of the position of the joints. This sense needs to become automatic through training to enable a person to concentrate on other aspects of performance, such as maintaining motivation.
Proprioception is what police officers test when they pull someone over and suspect them of being drunk. Without proprioception, you’d need to consciously watch your feet to make sure that you stay upright while walking.
Without proprioception, drivers would be unable to keep their eyes on the road while driving, as they would need to pay attention to the position of their arms and legs while working the pedals and steering wheel. If you happen to be snacking while reading this article, you would be unable to put food into your mouth without stopping to judge the position and orientation of your hands.
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