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Gait Posture. 2008 Feb;27(2):239-47. Epub 2007 May 23.

Characteristics of personal space during obstacle circumvention in physical and virtual environments.

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Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration, Department of Rehabilitation, Faculty of Medicine, Laval University, Quebec, Canada.


It is not known how the flexible protective zone maintained around oneself during locomotion (personal space or PS; see [Gérin-Lajoie M, Richards CL, McFadyen BJ. The negotiation of stationary and moving obstructions during walking: anticipatory locomotor adaptations and preservation of personal space. Motor Control 2005;9:242-69]) is modulated with walking speed, whether both sides of the PS are symmetrical, and whether the circumvention of physical and virtual obstructions elicit the same use of such PS. Personal space was measured in ten adults as they circumvented a cylindrical obstacle that was stationary within their path. Both left and right passes were performed at natural self-selected, slow and fast walking speeds. The same circumvention task was also performed at natural speeds in an immersive virtual environment (VE) replicating the same obstruction scenario. The shape and size of PS were maintained across walking speeds, and a smaller PS was generally observed on the dominant side. The general shape and lateral bias of the PS were preserved in the VE while its size was slightly increased. The systematic behavior across walking speeds and types of environment and the lateral bias suggest that PS is used to control navigation. This study deepens our understanding of normal adaptive walking behavior and has implications for the development of better tools for the assessment and retraining of locomotor capacity in different populations, from people with walking deficits to elite athletes. Since the PS behavior was shown to be robust in the VE used for this study, the virtual reality technology is proposed as a promising platform for the development of such assessment and retraining applications.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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