A mental workload and biomechanical assessment during split-belt locomotor adaptation with and without optic flow

Caitlin E. Mahon, Brad D. Hendershot, Christopher Gaskins, Bradley D. Hatfield, Emma P. Shaw*, Rodolphe J. Gentili*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adaptive human performance relies on the central nervous system to regulate the engagement of cognitive–motor resources as task demands vary. Despite numerous studies which employed a split-belt induced perturbation to examine biomechanical outcomes during locomotor adaptation, none concurrently examined the cerebral cortical dynamics to assess changes in mental workload. Additionally, while prior work suggests that optic flow provides critical information for walking regulation, a few studies have manipulated visual inputs during adaption to split-belt walking. This study aimed to examine the concurrent modulation of gait and Electroencephalography (EEG) cortical dynamics underlying mental workload during split-belt locomotor adaptation, with and without optic flow. Thirteen uninjured participants with minimal inherent walking asymmetries at baseline underwent adaptation, while temporal–spatial gait and EEG spectral metrics were recorded. The results revealed a reduction in step length and time asymmetry from early to late adaptation, accompanied by an elevated frontal and temporal theta power; the former being well corelated to biomechanical changes. While the absence of optic flow during adaptation did not affect temporal–spatial gait metrics, it led to an increase of theta and low-alpha power. Thus, as individuals adapt their locomotor patterns, the cognitive–motor resources underlying the encoding and consolidation processes of the procedural memory were recruited to acquire a new internal model of the perturbation. Also, when adaption occurs without optic flow, a further reduction of arousal is accompanied with an elevation of attentional engagement due to enhanced neurocognitive resources likely to maintain adaptive walking patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1945-1958
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Electroencephalography
  • Locomotion
  • Mental workload
  • Optic flow
  • Sensorimotor adaptation
  • Split-belt


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