The visual control of stability in children and adults: postural readjustments in a ground optical flow

Baumberger, Bernard ; Isableu, Brice ; Flückiger, Michelangelo

In: Experimental Brain Research, 2004, vol. 159, no. 1, p. 33-46

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    The aim of this research was to analyse the development of postural reactions to approaching (AOF) and receding (ROF) ground rectilinear optical flows. Optical flows were shaped by a pattern of circular spots of light projected on the ground surface by a texture flow generator. The geometrical structure of the projected scenes corresponded to the spatial organisation of visual flows encountered in open outdoor settings. Postural readjustments of 56 children, ranging from 7 to 11years old, and 12 adults were recorded by the changes of the centre of foot pressure (CoP) on a force platform during 44-s exposures to the moving texture. Before and after the optical flows exposure, a 24-s motionless texture served as a reference condition. Effect of ground rectilinear optical flows on postural control development was assessed by analysing sway latencies (SL), stability performances and postural orientation. The main results that emerge from this experiment show that postural responses are directionally specific to optical flow pattern and that they vary as a function of the motion onset and offset. Results showed that greater developmental changes in postural control occurred in an AOF (both at the onset and offset of the optical flow) than in an ROF. Onset of an approaching flow induced postural instability, canonical shifts in postural orientation and long latencies in children which were stronger than in the receding flow. This pattern of responses evolved with age towards an improvement in stability performances and shorter SL. The backward decreasing shift of the CoP in children evolved in adults towards forward postural tilt, i.e. in the opposite direction of the texture's motion. Offset of an AOF motion induced very short SL in children (which became longer in adult subjects), strong postural instability, but weaker shift of orientation compared to the receding one. Postural stability improved and orientation shift evolved to forward inclinations with age. SL remained almost constant across age at both onset and offset of the receding flow. Critical developmental periods seem to occur by the age of 8 and 10years, as suggested by the transient ‘neglect' of the children to optical flows. Linear vection was felt by 90% of the 7year olds and decreased with age to reach 55% in adult subjects. The mature sensorimotor coordination subserving the postural organisation shown in adult subjects is an example aiming at reducing the postural effects induced by optical flows. The data are discussed in relation to the perceptual importance of mobile visual references on a ground support