Motor responses to unexpected external perturbations require the adjustment of the motor commands driving the ongoing activity. Strategies can be learned with practice to compensate for these unpredictable perturbations (e.g., externally induced slips and trips). It has been hypothesized that response improvements reflect the adaptation of motor commands through updates of an internal model. This hypothesis may be nuanced when a pre-existing motor response could be used. In that case, since a relatively adequate response is known, only the timing of the command needs to be determined. If so, then it could be inferred that the timing of movement initiation and the specific sequence of motor commands can be dissociated. Previously, we quantified the benefits of cuing vs. learning on recovery motor responses resulting from a trip induced by the abrupt stop of one side of a split belt treadmill. Trip occurrence was randomized within a series of strides. Two groups of young adults participated to two distinct experiments (learning, cuing). In the learning experiment, trip recovery improved progressively from the 4th to the 8th trial to reach an “adapted response”. In the cuing experiment, trip recovery was immediate (from 1st trial). Expanding from these results, the aim of the present work was to differentiate the processes underlying the generation of motor compensation strategies in response to an external perturbation under time uncertainty. A supplementary analysis revealed that “cued” responses were kinematically similar to the “adapted response” and remained invariant regardless of cue lead time (250, 500 ms before trip) and application location of the cue (arm, trunk, lower leg). It is posited that all responses (cued and non-cued) are the expression of a pre-existing motor program derived from life experiences. Here, the cue significantly reduces time uncertainty and adaptation consists primarily in resolving time uncertainty based on the trial-by-trial learning of the stochastic property of trip occurrence in order to reduce the response delay. Hence, response time delay and motor program parameters appear to stem from two distinct processes.
Timing uncertainty Vibrotactile cuing Induced trip Rehabilitation Fall recovery
We thank S. Madansingh for his assistance in installing load sensors, recruiting study participants, and collecting data, H. Meng for his assistance with participant recruitment, and R. Kabbaligere for her assistance in identifying appropriate load sensors.
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Conflict of interest
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