Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 206, Issue 4, pp 359–370 | Cite as

The effects of error augmentation on learning to walk on a narrow balance beam

  • Antoinette DomingoEmail author
  • Daniel P. Ferris
Research Article


Error augmentation during training has been proposed as a means to facilitate motor learning due to the human nervous system’s reliance on performance errors to shape motor commands. We studied the effects of error augmentation on short-term learning of walking on a balance beam to determine whether it had beneficial effects on motor performance. Four groups of able-bodied subjects walked on a treadmill-mounted balance beam (2.5-cm wide) before and after 30 min of training. During training, two groups walked on the beam with a destabilization device that augmented error (Medium and High Destabilization groups). A third group walked on a narrower beam (1.27-cm) to augment error (Narrow). The fourth group practiced walking on the 2.5-cm balance beam (Wide). Subjects in the Wide group had significantly greater improvements after training than the error augmentation groups. The High Destabilization group had significantly less performance gains than the Narrow group in spite of similar failures per minute during training. In a follow-up experiment, a fifth group of subjects (Assisted) practiced with a device that greatly reduced catastrophic errors (i.e., stepping off the beam) but maintained similar pelvic movement variability. Performance gains were significantly greater in the Wide group than the Assisted group, indicating that catastrophic errors were important for short-term learning. We conclude that increasing errors during practice via destabilization and a narrower balance beam did not improve short-term learning of beam walking. In addition, the presence of qualitatively catastrophic errors seems to improve short-term learning of walking balance.


Gait Task-specificity Rehabilitation Movement variability 



The authors would like to thank Daniela Weiss, Sarah Weiss, Evelyn Anaka and other members of the Human Neuromechanics Lab for help with data collection and processing. We would also like to thank Shawn O'Connor and Peter Adamczyk for help with data analysis and Steve Collins for help with the negative-stiffness spring design. This work was supported by the Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant, the Foundation for Physical Therapy PODS II Scholarship, and National Institutes of Health F31 HD056588-01.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of KinesiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of Physical Medicine and RehabilitationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.VancouverCanada

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