Control strategies for rapid, visually guided adjustments of the foot during continuous walking

  • Sean L. Barton
  • Jonathan S. Matthis
  • Brett R. FajenEmail author
Research Article


When walking over stable, complex terrain, visual information about an upcoming foothold is primarily utilized during the preceding step to organize a nearly ballistic forward movement of the body. However, it is often necessary to respond to changes in the position of an intended foothold that occur around step initiation. Although humans are capable of rapidly adjusting foot trajectory mid-swing in response to a perturbation of target position, such movements may disrupt the efficiency and stability of the gait cycle. In the present study, we consider whether walkers sometimes adopt alternative strategies for responding to perturbations that interfere less with ongoing forward locomotion. Subjects walked along a path of irregularly spaced stepping targets projected onto the ground, while their movements were recorded by a full-body motion-capture system. On a subset of trials, the location of one target was perturbed in either a medial–lateral or anterior–posterior direction. We found that subjects were best able to respond to perturbations that occurred during the latter half of the preceding step and that responses to perturbations that occurred during a step were less successful than previously reported in studies using a single-step paradigm. We also found that, when possible, subjects adjusted the ballistic movement of their center of mass in response to perturbations. We conclude that, during continuous walking, strategies for responding to perturbations that rely on reach-like movements of the foot may be less effective than previously assumed. For perturbations that are detected around step initiation, walkers prefer to adapt by tailoring the global, pendular mechanics of the body.


Walking Visual control Foot placement Perturbation 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (1431087).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cognitive ScienceRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA
  2. 2.Center for Perceptual SystemsUniversity of Texas AustinAustinUSA

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