Using a System Identification Approach to Investigate Subtask Control during Human Locomotion
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Here we apply a control theoretic view of movement to the behavior of human locomotion with the goal of using perturbations to learn about subtask control. Controlling one’s speed and maintaining upright posture are two critical subtasks, or underlying functions, of human locomotion. How the nervous system simultaneously controls these two subtasks was investigated in this study. Continuous visual and mechanical perturbations were applied concurrently to subjects (n=20) as probes to investigate these two subtasks during treadmill walking. Novel application of harmonic transfer function (HTF) analysis to human motor behavior was used, and these HTFs were converted to the time-domain based representation of phase-dependent impulse response functions (_IRFs). These _IRFs were used to identify the mapping from perturbation inputs to kinematic and electromyographic (EMG) outputs throughout the phases of the gait cycle. Mechanical perturbations caused an initial, passive change in trunk orientation and, at some phases of stimulus presentation, a corrective trunk EMG and orientation response. Visual perturbations elicited a trunk EMG response prior to a trunk orientation response, which was subsequently followed by an anterior-posterior displacement response. This finding supports the notion that there is a temporal hierarchy of functional subtasks during locomotion in which the control of upper-body posture precedes other subtasks. Moreover, the novel analysis we apply has the potential to probe a broad range of rhythmic behaviors to better understand their neural control.
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