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We investigated the characteristics of standing posture and performance of concurrent cognitive tasks in subjects confronted by whole field visual motion. Movements of the head and centre of pressure (COP) were recorded in 12 subjects who performed modified Brooks spatial and verbal tasks when in quiet stance viewing a chequerboard pattern, planar, visual field, moving with uniform velocity (25°/s, 50°/s and 76°/s). Eight subjects were also tested seated to control for the effect of stance. Task load was monitored by heart rate and eye movements were recorded to ensure viewing compliance. Subjects rated their quotidian susceptibility to visual disorientation on a validated scale. In both lateral and antero-posterior directions there were small amplitude but significant increases in COP sway path length and standard deviations of both COP and head sway during exposure to visual motion in proportion to visual flow speed. Performing cognitive tasks during visual motion attenuated sway S.D. The effects on sway of task and visual flow were independent. Visual motion induced a slight tilt and turn of the head and body in the direction of flow together with slight neck flexion. Errors on both verbal and spatial tasks increased >250% during visual motion both when standing and when seated. Ratings of subjects' susceptibility to disorientation were un-related to either verbal or spatial task error rates. A current hypothesis is that the enhancement of sway by visual motion is destabilisation. We propose an alternative explanation that sway enhancement could be exploratory 'testing of the ground' movements to check for self motion. Hence decrease in sway magnitude during a cognitive task could be caused by a reduction in exploratory movement because attention is diverted from postural control to a secondary task. Mere passive viewing of a moving visual field may interfere with cognitive tasks possibly because the threat of disorientation by whole field motion diverts attentional resources. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Cognitive brain research

Publication Date





140 - 153