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The effect of increased cognitive processing on reactive balance control following perturbations to the upper limb

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Abstract

Reactive balance control following hand perturbations is important for everyday living as humans constantly encounter perturbations to the upper limb while performing functional tasks while standing. When multiple tasks are performed simultaneously, cognitive processing is increased, and performance on at least one of the tasks is often disrupted, owing to attentional resources being divided. The purpose here was to assess the effects of increased cognitive processing on whole-body balance responses to perturbations of the hand during continuous voluntary reaching. Sixteen participants (8 females; 22.9 ± 4.5 years) stood and grasped the handle of a KINARM – a robotic-controlled manipulandum paired with an augmented visual display. Participants completed 10 total trials of 100 mediolateral arm movements at a consistent speed of one reach per second, and an auditory n-back task (cognitive task). Twenty anteroposterior hand perturbations were interspersed randomly throughout the reaching trials. The arm movements with random arm perturbations were either performed simultaneously with the cognitive task (combined task) or in isolation (arm perturbation task). Peak centre of pressure (COP) displacement and velocity, time to COP displacement onset and peak, as well as hand displacement and velocity following the hand perturbation were evaluated. N-back response times were 8% slower and 11% less accurate for the combined than the cognitive task. Peak COP displacement following posterior perturbations increased by 8% during the combined compared to the arm perturbation task alone, with no other differences detected. Hand peak displacement decreased by 5% during the combined compared to the arm perturbation task. The main findings indicate that with increased cognitive processing, attentional resources were allocated from the cognitive task towards upper limb movements, while attentional resources for balance seemed unaltered.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the participants who volunteered in this study. Operating funds for this study were provided through a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (2017-06632) and infrastructure was supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (30979).

Funding

This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (2017-06632) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (30979).

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.T. conceived the study concept, collected and analyzed data, wrote the first draft of the manuscript and edited the manuscript. B.H.D. conceived the study concept, helped with data analysis, collection and interpretation, and reviewed and edited the manuscript. M.K. helped conceive and design experimental design, helped with interpretation of data, and reviewed and edited the manuscript. S.C. helped with data collection and analysis as well as reviewing and editing the manuscript. P.v.D. helped with data interpretation, experimental design as well as reviewing and editing the manuscript. All authors approved the submitted version of the manuscript and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brian H. Dalton.

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Conflict of interest

The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

Ethical Approval

This study was performed in line with the Canada's Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. The study procedures were approved by the University of British Columbia’s Clinical Research Ethics Board (No. H19-01982).

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All participants included in the study provided oral and written informed consent.

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Not applicable.

Additional information

Communicated by Francesco Lacquaniti.

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Trotman, M., Kennefick, M., Coughlin, S. et al. The effect of increased cognitive processing on reactive balance control following perturbations to the upper limb. Exp Brain Res 240, 1317–1329 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-022-06326-6

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