Attention and Locomotor Control in Children

It has been suggested that locomotor adaptation can be divided into two components: feedback and feed forward adaptation. Feedback adaptation is suggested to be an automatic process, which is conducted in spinal networks. However, feed forward adaptation is suggested to involve higher cognitive networks and may require some amount of attention. The purpose of this study is to evaluate this claim in that if feed forward adaptation requires attention, it will be impaired by the addition of an attention task, whereas feedback adaptation will not be affected. Twenty-five boys ages 8-10 will perform three tasks in random order: locomotor adaptation, attention task and dual task where both are performed together.

The split-belt treadmill in which one leg is forced to walk faster than the other will be used as the adaptation task. The attention task involves listening to a story for content and a key word. Measures of feed forward adaptation include step length, double support time, and limb phasing, and feedback adaptation measures include stride length, peak joint angles and stance time. We expect to find that feed forward adaptation will be impaired during the dual task, and that feedback adaptation measures will not be affected. Expected results would indicate that children would be most successful at locomotor adaptation in an environment that is free of distraction and may even benefit from being trained to focus on feed forward aspects of adaptation.