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Between a Walk and a Hard Place: How Stepping Patterns Change While Navigating Environmental Obstacles

Ashwini Kulkarni, Chuyi Cui, Shirley Rietdyk, and Satyajit Ambike

Maintaining a consistent relationship between each footfall and the body’s motion is a key mechanism to maintain balance while walking. However, environmental features, for example, puddles/obstacles, impose additional constraints on foot placement. This study investigated how healthy young individuals alter foot placements to simultaneously manage body-centric and environmental constraints during an obstacle-crossing task. Consistent step length promotes balance for all steps, whereas accurate foot placement around the obstacle is essential to avoid a trip. While crossing an obstacle, any error in positioning one foot relative to the obstacle can be compensated by selecting the placement of the subsequent step. However, compensation will necessarily alter step length from its average value. The interstep covariance index computed from two consecutive foot placements was used to quantify this tradeoff between body-centric and environmental constraints for six consecutive steps while approaching, crossing, and resuming unobstructed gait after crossing the obstacle. The index declined only when either one or both feet were adjacent to the obstacle. The decline was driven in part by a tendency toward higher step length variability. Thus, changes in the stepping patterns to address the environmental constraint occurred at the cost of the body-centric constraint. However, the step length never ceased to be controlled; the interstep covariance index was positive for all steps. Overall, participants adapted foot placement control to account for the larger threat to balance. The environmental constraint was prioritized only when a potential trip posed greater threat to balance compared with the threat posed by variable step length.

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The Dawn of the Study of Motor Timing: Wilhelm Camerer (1866) and Karl von Vierordt (1868) on the Time Course of Voluntary Movements

John H. Wearden

This article discusses material from the doctoral thesis of Wilhlem Camerer, which was devoted to the topic of the timing of voluntary movements, and appeared in 1866, thus being one of the earliest studies of any aspect of time perception. It was conducted under the supervision of Karl von Vierordt, at the University of Tübingen in Germany. The data reported come from Camerer’s attempts to make a movement over a distance of about 65 mm, either by flexion or extension of his arm, with the behavior recorded via a kymograph, and measured from its trace. Most of his data come from his attempts to make movements at a constant speed, with the speed varying from one trial to another from 5 to 60 mm/s, but he also conducted a study where the movement was intended to be accelerated or decelerated during the trial. In general, when extension movements were intended to be performed with constant speed, a gradual increase in movement speed usually occurred throughout the movement duration. For flexions the opposite occurred, albeit less clearly. Camerer linked the apparent distortions of speed to Vierordt’s experiments on the perception of time and his thesis contains what is probably the first mention of Vierordt’s Law, the proposition that short times are judged as longer, and long times as shorter, than they really are.

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Effect of Exercise Intensity on Psychomotor Vigilance During an Incremental Endurance Exercise in Under-19 Soccer Players

Francisco Tomás González-Fernández, Pedro Ángel Latorre-Román, Juan Parraga-Montilla, Alfonso Castillo-Rodriguez, and Filipe Manuel Clemente

The aim of this study was to analyze the acute effects of an incremental resistance test on psychomotor vigilance in 16 soccer players under-19 years old (age 16.42 ± 0.85 years). Borg 15-point subjective perception of effort scale, the psychomotor vigilance task test, and the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test were used. Four evaluation sessions were conducted with different intensities of efforts (30%–40%, 60%–75%, 80%–90%, and 100%) on different days (counterbalanced order). A repeated-measures analysis of variance was performed in the reaction time of the psychomotor vigilance task. The results showed that participants responded faster during efforts between 80% and 90% of maximal oxygen uptake (501.20 ± 70.77 ms). From that threshold, the players decreased their performance through a longer reaction time (601.23 ± 85.05 ms; p value < .001). The main findings were that the reaction time performance was worse at the lowest and highest effort conditions (5 and 17 km/hr, respectively). This fact helps to focus on the importance of designing and proposing training tasks with medium–high efforts to provoke optimal reaction times in young soccer players.

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Response Time Modulates the Relationship Between Implicit Learning and Motor Ability in Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Preliminary Study

Jin Bo, Bo Shen, Liangsan Dong, YanLi Pang, Yu Xing, Mingting Zhang, Yuan Xiang, Patricia C. Lasutschinkow, and Dan Li

Difficulty with implicit learning plays an important role in the symptomology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, findings in motor learning are inconsistent. This study evaluated implicit sequence learning and its relationship with motor ability in children with and without ASD. We adopted a classic serial reaction time task with a retention task and three awareness tests. The Movement Assessment Battery for Children was administered to assess children’s motor ability. Significant learning differences between children with and without ASD were only found in retention but not immediately after the serial reaction time task. These findings suggest that the impaired implicit learning in ASD is characterized as impaired consolidation where the relatively permanent changes are missing. Exploratory moderation analyses revealed a significant relationship between implicit learning and motor ability for individuals with faster response time. We argue the importance of response speed for optimal learning and should be weighted more for future intervention in children with ASD.

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Cognitive-Motor Interference and Cortical Activation While Walking in Individuals With Multiple Sclerosis

Michael VanNostrand, Brittany Belanger, Gabriel Purin, Susan L. Kasser, and Michael Cannizzaro

The present study expands on current understanding of dual-task cognitive-motor interference, by including cortical activation measures to both traditional and ecologically valid dual-task paradigms. Fifteen individuals with multiple sclerosis and 14 control participants underwent mobility testing while wearing functional near-infrared spectroscopy. In the absence of increased prefrontal cortical activation, subjects with multiple sclerosis performed significantly worse on measures of cognition under both single- and dual-task conditions. These findings suggest that persons with multiple sclerosis may be unable to allocate additional cortical resources to cognition under dual-task conditions, leading to significant cognitive-motor interference and decrements in performance. This study is the first to investigate cortical activation across several commonly used and ecologically valid dual-task assessments.

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Do Cognitive, Physical, and Combined Tasks Induce Similar Levels of Mental Fatigue? Testing the Effects of Different Moderating Variables

Ana Rubio-Morales, Jesús Díaz-García, Carlos Barbosa, Jelle Habay, Miguel Ángel López-Gajardo, and Tomás García-Calvo

Experts have highlighted the importance of coaches knowing the level of mental fatigue (MF) induced by different tasks. This study aimed to compare the mentally fatiguing nature of cognitive, physical, and combined tasks and, additionally, assess the effect of different moderating variables on MF. Twenty-three physically active (16 males: M age = 24 years; seven females: M age = 22.57 years) participants performed three experimental sessions: (a) physically fatiguing: 30 min of cycloergometer work (at 65%–75% of maximum heart rate), (b) mentally fatiguing: 30 min of an incongruent Stroop task, and (c) mixed fatiguing: 30 min of combining the physically and mentally fatiguing protocols. Subjective MF (visual analog scale), reaction time (psychomotor vigilance task), and cognitive performance (Stroop) were measured throughout the different protocols. Results showed significant increments in subjective MF after all tasks, with the mental and mixed protocols showing significantly higher increases. Only the mentally fatiguing protocol caused significant impairments in reaction time. No significant effects of sex, years of experience, or degree of mental toughness were observed. These results suggest that the use of all these tasks, and especially the mentally fatiguing exercises, should be avoided immediately prior to competitions due to the negative consequences of MF on performance. Moreover, this effect seems to be independent of the sex, years of experience, or mental toughness of athletes.

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Interfinger Synchronization Capability of Paired Fingers in Discrete Fine-Force Control Tasks

Cong Peng, Na Yao, Xin Wang, and Dangxiao Wang

This study examined whether within-a-hand and between-hands finger pairings would exhibit different interfinger synchronization capabilities in discrete fine-force control tasks. Participants were required to perform the designed force control tasks using finger pairings of index and middle fingers on one or two hands. Results demonstrated that the delayed reaction time and the timing difference of paired fingers showed a significant difference among finger pairings. In particular, paired fingers exhibited less delayed reaction time and timing difference in between-hands finger pairings than in within-a-hand finger pairings. Such bimanual advantage of the pairings with two symmetric fingers was evident only in the task types with relatively high amplitudes. However, for a given finger pairing, the asymmetric amplitude configuration, assigning a relatively higher amplitude to either left or right finger of paired fingers, has no significant effect on the interfinger synchronization. Therefore, paired fingers on both hands showed a bimanual advantage in the relatively high force, especially for the pairing of symmetrical fingers, whereas asymmetric amplitude configuration for a finger pairing was able to suppress the bimanual advantage. These findings would enrich the understanding of the interfinger synchronization capability of paired fingers and be referential for interactive engineering applications when leveraging the interfinger synchronization capability in discrete fine-force control tasks.

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Validation of Dance-Specific Balance Test: Evidence From Comparisons Between Dancers and Nondancers

Muhammad Ridhuan Johari, Ying Hwa Kee, and Pui Wah Kong

The aim of this study was to establish the utility of the dance-specific balance test in examining the stability in postural control for dancers. Specifically, the method involves using the time taken to stabilize upon perturbation to quantify postural stability. The dance-specific balance test involved performing a four-step dance-like routine followed by a forward hop onto the force plate with one’s dominant leg, ending with an attempt to sustain balance for a 30-s period. Results from the dance-specific balance test indicated that dancers stabilize faster (0.45 ± 0.11 s) than nondancers (1.09 ± 0.59 s); t(35.39) = −6.16, p < .001, Cohen’s d = 1.46. Dancers are found to be faster to adapt after a perturbation than nondancers, and this suggests the usability of this tool for assessing stability in dancers.

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Does 8 Weeks of Integrated Functional Core and Plyometric Training Improve Postural Control Performance in Young Rhythmic Gymnasts?

Cristina Cabrejas, Jose Morales, Mónica Solana-Tramunt, Ainhoa Nieto-Guisado, Alesander Badiola-Zabala, and Josep Campos-Rius

It has been suggested that core stability and plyometric training (CPT) can enhance athletes’ postural control. Nevertheless, the effects of an integrated core and plyometric training program on rhythmic gymnastics (RG) performance are unclear. This study aimed to evaluate the effects of an integrated functional CPT program on young rhythmics gymnasts’ postural performance. A sample of 44 young female rhythmic gymnasts from a competitive team (age = 10.5 ± 1.8 years) participated in the study. The subjects were randomly divided into a control group and an experimental group. Pre- and posttest design was used. Postural control was assessed using single-leg stance tests and RG-specific balances over a force platform and evaluated by expert RG judges. The experimental group (n = 23) completed an 8-week functional CPT program based on RG technical requirements. Meanwhile, the control group (n = 21) received their usual training sessions. A mixed model of analysis of variance was applied to evaluate the effects of an intrasubject factor and an intersubject factor on each of the dependent variables. After 8 weeks, the experimental group obtained significant better results in some variables of the right support leg with eyes open and left support leg with eyes open single-leg support (p < .01), improvements were also found in some specific RG balances: Arabesque measured on the force platform (p < .01) and the side leg with help balance scored by the judges (p < .01). In conclusion, an integrated functional CPT program improved postural control in young rhythmic gymnasts. Coaches should consider using this CPT to improve RG performance.

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A Dynamical Approach to the Uncontrolled Manifold: Predicting Performance Error During Steady-State Isometric Force Production

Francis M. Grover, Valéria Andrade, Nicole S. Carver, Scott Bonnette, Michael A. Riley, and Paula L. Silva

The uncontrolled manifold (UCM) approach quantifies the presence of compensatory variability between musculoskeletal elements involved in a motor task. This approach has proved useful for identifying synergistic control strategies for a variety of everyday motor tasks and for investigating how control strategies are affected by motor pathology. However, the UCM approach is limited in its ability to relate compensatory motor variance directly to task performance because variability along the UCM is mathematically agnostic to performance. We present a new approach to UCM analysis that quantifies patterns of irregularity in the compensatory variability between motor elements over time. In a bimanual isometric force stabilization task, irregular patterns of compensation between index fingers predicted greater performance error associated with difficult task conditions, in particular for individuals who exploited a larger set of compensatory strategies (i.e., a larger subspace of the UCM). This relationship between the amount and structure of compensatory motor variance might be an expression of underlying processes supporting performance resilience.