Time-dependent influence of sensorimotor set on automatic responses in perturbed stance

Raymond K.Y. Chong, Fay B. Horak, Marjorie H. Woollacott

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38 Scopus citations


These experiments tested the hypothesis that the ability to change sensorimotor set quickly for automatic responses depends on the time interval between successive surface perturbations. Sensorimotor set refers to the influence of prior experience or context on the state of the sensorimotor system. Sensorimotor set for postural responses was influenced by first giving subjects a block of identical backward translations of the support surface, causing forward sway and automatic gastrocnemius responses. The ability to change set quickly was inferred by measuring the suppression of the stretched antagonist gastrocnemius responses to toes-up rotations causing backward sway, following the translations. Responses were examined under short (10-14 s) and long (19-24 s) inter-trial intervals in young healthy subjects. The results showed that subjects in the long-interval group changed set immediately by suppressing gastrocnemius to 51% of translation responses within the first rotation and continued to suppress them over succeeding rotations. In contrast, subjects in the short-interval group did not change set immediately, but required two or more rotations to suppress gastrocnemius responses. By the last rotation, the short-interval group suppressed gastrocnemius responses to 33%, similar to the long-interval group of 29%. Associated surface plantarflexor torque resulting from these responses showed similar results. When rotation and translation perturbations alternated, however, the short-interval group was not able to suppress gastrocnemius responses to rotations as much as the long-interval group, although they did suppress more than in the first rotation trial after a series of translations. Set for automatic responses appears to linger, from one trial to the next. Specifically, sensorimotor set is more difficult to change when surface perturbations are given in close succession, making it appear as if set has become progressively stronger. A strong set does not mean that responses become larger over consecutive trials. Rather, it is inferred by the extent of difficulty in changing a response when it is appropriate to do so. These results suggest that the ability to change sensorimotor set quickly is sensitive to whether the change is required after a long or a short series of a prior different response, which in turn depends on the time interval between successive trials. Different rate of gastrocnemius suppression to toes-up rotation of the support surface have been reported in previous studies. This may be partially explained by different inter-trial time intervals demonstrated in this study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-519
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999


  • Automatic responses
  • Balance
  • Balance control
  • Central set
  • Postural control
  • Posture
  • Sensorimotor set
  • Set

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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