Walking humans trade off different task goals to regulate lateral stepping

Anna C. Render, Meghan E. Kazanski, Joseph P. Cusumano, Jonathan B. Dingwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


People walk in complex environments where they must adapt their steps to maintain balance and satisfy changing task goals. How people do this is not well understood. We recently developed computational models of lateral stepping, based on Goal Equivalent Manifolds that serve as motor regulation templates, to identify how people regulate walking movements from step-to-step. In normal walking, healthy adults strongly maintain step width, but also lateral position on their path. Here, we used this framework to pose empirically-testable hypotheses about how humans might adapt their lateral stepping dynamics when asked to prioritize different stepping goals. Participants walked on a treadmill in a virtual-reality environment under 4 conditions: normal walking and, while given direct feedback at each step, walking while trying to maintain constant step width, constant absolute lateral position, or constant heading (direction). Time series of lateral stepping variables were extracted, and variability and statistical persistence (reflecting step-to-step regulation) quantified. Participants exhibited less variability of the prescribed stepping variable compared to normal walking during each feedback condition. Stepping regulation results supported our models’ predictions: to maintain constant step width or position, people either maintained or increased regulation of the prescribed variable, but also decreased regulation of its complement. Thus, people regulated lateral foot placements in predictable and systematic ways determined by specific task goals. Humans regulate stepping movements to not only “just walk” (step without falling), but also to achieve specific goal-directed tasks within a specific environment. The framework and motor regulation templates presented here capture these important interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110314
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
StatePublished - Apr 15 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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