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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44722. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044722. Epub 2012 Sep 6.

Does it really matter where you look when walking on stairs? Insights from a dual-task study.

Author information

1
Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Abstract

Although the visual system is known to provide relevant information to guide stair locomotion, there is less understanding of the specific contributions of foveal and peripheral visual field information. The present study investigated the specific role of foveal vision during stair locomotion and ground-stairs transitions by using a dual-task paradigm to influence the ability to rely on foveal vision. Fifteen healthy adults (26.9 ± 3.3 years; 8 females) ascended a 7-step staircase under four conditions: no secondary tasks (CONTROL); gaze fixation on a fixed target located at the end of the pathway (TARGET); visual reaction time task (VRT); and auditory reaction time task (ART). Gaze fixations towards stair features were significantly reduced in TARGET and VRT compared to CONTROL and ART. Despite the reduced fixations, participants were able to successfully ascend stairs and rarely used the handrail. Step time was increased during VRT compared to CONTROL in most stair steps. Navigating on the transition steps did not require more gaze fixations than the middle steps. However, reaction time tended to increase during locomotion on transitions suggesting additional executive demands during this phase. These findings suggest that foveal vision may not be an essential source of visual information regarding stair features to guide stair walking, despite the unique control challenges at transition phases as highlighted by phase-specific challenges in dual-tasking. Instead, the tendency to look at the steps in usual conditions likely provides a stable reference frame for extraction of visual information regarding step features from the entire visual field.

PMID:
22970297
PMCID:
PMC3435292
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0044722
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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