The effects of postural threat on cognitive strategies used to maintain upright stance
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It is well established that postural threat modifies postural control, although little is known regarding the underlying mechanism(s) responsible. It is possible that changes in postural control under conditions of elevated postural threat result from alterations in cognitive strategies. The purpose of this study was to determine the influence of elevated postural threat on cognitive strategies and to determine the relationship between postural control, psychological, and cognitive measures. It was hypothesized that elevated postural threat would cause a shift to more conscious control of posture. It was also expected that a relationship between fear of falling and postural control would exist that could be explained by changes in conscious control of posture. Forty-eight healthy young adults stood on a force plate at two different surface heights: ground level (LOW) and 3.2m above ground level (HIGH). Center of pressure (COP) summary measures calculated to quantify postural control were the mean position (AP-COP MP), root mean square (AP-COP RMS) and mean power frequency (AP-COP MPF) in the anteriorposterior direction. Trunk sway measures calculated in the pitch direction were trunk angle and trunk velocity. Psychological measures including perceived balance confidence, perceived fear of falling, perceived anxiety, and perceived stability were self reported. As a physiological indicator of anxiety, electrodermal activity was collected. The cognitive strategies assessed were movement reinvestment and attention focus. A modified state-sp-ecific version of the Movement Specific Reinvestment Scale was used to measure conscious motor processing (CMP) and movement self-consciousness (MSC). An attention focus questionnaire was developed to assess the amount of attention directed to internal and external sources. An effect of postural threat on cognitive strategies was observed as participants reported more conscious control and a greater concern or worry about their posture at the HIGH postural threat condition as well as an increased internal and external focus of attention. In addition changes in postural control, psychological, and physiological measures were found. The participants leaned away from the edge of the platform, the frequency of their postural adjustments increased, and the velocity of their trunk movements increased. Participants felt less confident, more fearful, more anxious, and less stable with an accompanying increase in physiological anxiety. Significant correlations between perceived anxiety, AP-COP MP, and cognitive measures revealed a possible relationship that could be mediated by cognitive measures. It was found that with greater conscious motor processing, more movement self-consciousness, and a greater amount of attention focused externally there was a larger shift of the mean position away from the edge of the platform. This thesis provides evidence that postural threat can influence cognitive strategies causing a shift to more conscious control of movement which is associated with leaning away from the edge of the platform. Shifting the position of the body away from the direction of the postural threat may reflect a cognitive strategy to ensure safety in this situation due to the inability to employ a stepping strategy when standing on an elevated platform.