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Adaptive Motor Planning of Center-of-Mass Trajectory during Goal-Directed Walking in Novel Environments

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To aid in the successful execution of goal-directed walking (discrete movement from a start location to an end target) the central nervous system forms a predictive motor plan. For the motor plan to be effective, it must be adapted in response to environmental changes. Despite motor planning being inherent to goal-directed walking, it is not understood how the nervous system adapts these plans to interact with changing environments. Our objective was to understand how people adapt motor plans of center of mass (COM) trajectory during goal-directed walking in response to a consistent change in environmental dynamics. Participants preformed a series of goal-directed walking trials in a novel environment created by a cable robot that applied a lateral force field to their COM. We hypothesized that participants would adapt to the environment by forming an internal model of their COM trajectory within the force field. Our findings support this hypothesis. Initially, we found COM trajectory significantly deviated in the same direction as the applied field, relative to baseline (no field) (p = 0.002). However, with practice in the field, COM trajectory adapted back to the baseline (p = 0.6). When we unexpectedly removed the field, participants demonstrated after-effects, COM trajectory deviated in the direction opposite of the field relative to baseline (p < 0.001). Our findings suggest that when performing a goal-directed walking task, people adapt a motor plan that predicts the COM trajectory that will emerge from the interaction between a specific set of motor commands and the external environment.

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  • 07/24/2019
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  • Northwestern University
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