The direction of postural threat alters balance control when standing at virtual elevation

Tiphanie E. Raffegeau, Bradley Fawver, William R. Young, A. Mark Williams, Keith R. Lohse, Peter C. Fino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Anxiogenic settings lead to reduced postural sway while standing, but anxiety-related balance may be influenced by the location of postural threat in the environment. We predicted that the direction of threat would elicit a parallel controlled manifold relative to the standing surface, and an orthogonal uncontrolled manifold during standing. Altogether, 14 healthy participants (8 women, mean age = 27.5 years, SD = 8.2) wore a virtual reality (VR) headset and stood on a matched real-world walkway (2 m × 40 cm × 2 cm) for 30 s at ground level and simulated heights (elevated 15 m) in two positions: (1) parallel to walkway, lateral threat; and (2) perpendicular to walkway, anteroposterior threat. Inertial sensors measured postural sway acceleration (e.g., 95% ellipse, root mean square (RMS) of acceleration), and a wrist-worn monitor measured heart rate coefficient of variation (HR CV). Fully factorial linear-mixed effect regressions (LMER) determined the effects of height and position. HR CV moderately increased from low to high height (p = 0.050, g = 0.397). The Height × Position interaction approached significance for sway area (95% ellipse; β = − 0.018, p = 0.062) and was significant for RMS (β = − 0.022, p = 0.007). Post-hoc analyses revealed that sagittal plane sway accelerations and RMS increased from low to high elevation in parallel standing, but were limited when facing the threat during perpendicular standing. Postural response to threat varies depending on the direction of threat, suggesting that the control strategies used during standing are sensitive to the direction of threat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2653-2663
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Anxiety
  • Fear of falling
  • Heart rate
  • Motor control
  • Sway
  • Virtual reality


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