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J Neurophysiol. 2017 Feb 1;117(2):480-491. doi: 10.1152/jn.00015.2016. Epub 2016 Oct 19.

Foot placement relies on state estimation during visually guided walking.

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Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, California; and.
Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada;
Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.


As we walk, we must accurately place our feet to stabilize our motion and to navigate our environment. We must also achieve this accuracy despite imperfect sensory feedback and unexpected disturbances. In this study we tested whether the nervous system uses state estimation to beneficially combine sensory feedback with forward model predictions to compensate for these challenges. Specifically, subjects wore prism lenses during a visually guided walking task, and we used trial-by-trial variation in prism lenses to add uncertainty to visual feedback and induce a reweighting of this input. To expose altered weighting, we added a consistent prism shift that required subjects to adapt their estimate of the visuomotor mapping relationship between a perceived target location and the motor command necessary to step to that position. With added prism noise, subjects responded to the consistent prism shift with smaller initial foot placement error but took longer to adapt, compatible with our mathematical model of the walking task that leverages state estimation to compensate for noise. Much like when we perform voluntary and discrete movements with our arms, it appears our nervous systems uses state estimation during walking to accurately reach our foot to the ground.


Accurate foot placement is essential for safe walking. We used computational models and human walking experiments to test how our nervous system achieves this accuracy. We find that our control of foot placement beneficially combines sensory feedback with internal forward model predictions to accurately estimate the body's state. Our results match recent computational neuroscience findings for reaching movements, suggesting that state estimation is a general mechanism of human motor control.


adaptation; internal model; locomotion; uncertainty; vision

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