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Manipulating sensory information: obstacle crossing strategies between typically developing children and young adults


Individuals constantly adapt their locomotion to navigate through complex environments. However, little known about anticipatory strategies used by children during adaptive locomotion. The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of manipulating visual and somatosensory information during a multiple obstacle crossing task between children and adults. It was hypothesized that compared to young adults, children would have difficulty with anticipatory motor planning and online control during a multiple obstacle crossing task when sensory information was manipulated. Children (N = 16, \(\overline{x}\) = 9 ± 1.07 years) and young adults (N = 16, \(\overline{x}\) = 22 ± 0.96 years) walked along a 7 m pathway towards a goal while avoiding stepping on one, or two virtual obstacles placed 5 m from the start. Visual information regarding the number of obstacles was either presented at the start of steady-state locomotion, or two steps prior to the first obstacle. Each participant completed 36 trials, 18 on flat ground and 18 on foam terrain. Results indicated that in comparison to young adults, children’s foot positions were significantly closer to the first obstacle when visual information about the obstacle was delayed. On flat ground, children demonstrated similar Trail foot positions relative to the first and second obstacles, suggesting children planned for the avoidance of the obstacles separately. On foam terrain, children performed similar to young adults, such that their Trail foot position relative to the first obstacle was significantly closer to the obstacle compared to their Trial foot position relative to the second obstacle. The results suggest that children plan for the avoidance of multiple obstacles differently compared to young adults. When stability is challenged, maintaining forward progression of locomotion overrides the planning of obstacle crossing, such that children perform similar to young adults. Therefore, it appears that children have difficulties with online control and anticipatory motor strategies during a multiple obstacle crossing task.

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This research was funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (05288-2014).

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Correspondence to Michael Cinelli.

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Communicated by Francesco Lacquaniti.

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Rapos, V., Cinelli, M. Manipulating sensory information: obstacle crossing strategies between typically developing children and young adults. Exp Brain Res 238, 513–523 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-020-05732-y

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  • Children
  • Obstacle crossing
  • Visuo-motor control
  • Multi-sensory integration
  • Dynamic stability