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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sensorimotor loop delays in the control of human stance Rasman, Brandon Gerald


Maintaining upright stance involves a time-critical process in which the central nervous system monitors postural orientation and modulates muscle activity accordingly. Visual, vestibular and somatosensory systems detect body motion that the balance controller utilizes to update standing control. The time delays between motor output and the resulting sensory feedback are expected and likely accommodated for. Consequently, we perceive whole-body movement as being a consequence of our own actions. Balance control, however, also involves processes that do not rely on conscious perception, allowing us to maintain standing balance almost effortlessly. Recent studies have demonstrated that both the perception and vestibular control of balance are modulated when sensory signals of whole-body movement do not match self-generated ankle torques. The aim of this thesis was to explore the temporal properties of the sensorimotor loops driving the perception and vestibular control of standing balance. Using a robotic balance simulator, experimentally-induced time delays were introduced between human participant’s ankle-produced torques and body movement. The first experiment used a psychophysical design to determine what delay is needed for humans to perceive a change in balance control. All participants were able to perceive a 300 ms delay with 100% success, with an average 69% correct threshold of 155 ms. In the second experiment, participants were exposed to a virtual vestibular perturbation while they balanced their body at different induced delays. Vestibular-evoked muscle responses attenuated with increasing loop delays, falling to amplitudes 84% smaller than baseline when a 500 ms delay was introduced between the produced torques and body movement. This is the first study to explore the time domain relationship between sensory and motor signals in standing, and the results reveal and describe temporal constraints of the sensorimotor control of balance. The present findings will act as springboard for studying postural control mechanisms in the future, encouraging the use of this robotic simulator to alter sensorimotor relationships during ongoing balance control. Using interventions like induced delays, we can decipher the natural processes that govern posture, and explore the adaptability and plasticity of these systems.

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