Effects of implicit visual feedback distortion on human gait

Exp Brain Res. 2012 May;218(3):495-502. doi: 10.1007/s00221-012-3044-5. Epub 2012 Mar 13.


Gait rehabilitation after stroke often utilizes treadmill training delivered by either therapists or robotic devices. However, clinical results have shown no benefit from this modality when compared to usual care. On the contrary, results were inferior; perhaps, because in its present form it is not interactive and at least for stroke, central pattern generators at the spinal level do not appear to be the key to promote recovery. To enable gait therapy to be more effective, therapy must be interactive and visual feedback appears to be an important option to engage patients' participation. In this study, we tested healthy subjects to see whether an implicit "visual feedback distortion" influences gait spatial pattern. Subjects were not aware of the visual distortion nor did they realize changes in their gait pattern. The visual feedback of step length symmetry was distorted so that subjects perceived their step length as being asymmetric during treadmill training. We found that a gradual distortion of visual feedback, without explicit knowledge of the manipulation, systematically modulated gait step length away from symmetry and that the visual distortion effect was robust even in the presence of cognitive load. This indicates that although the visual feedback display used in this study did not create a conscious and vivid sensation of self-motion (the properties of the optical flow), experimental modifications of visual information of subjects' movement were found to cause implicit gait modulation. Nevertheless, our results indicate that modulation with visual distortion may require cognitive resources because during the distraction task, the amount of gait modulation was reduced. Our results suggest that a therapeutic program involving visual feedback distortion, in the context of gait rehabilitation, may provide an effective way to help subjects correct gait patterns, thereby improving the outcome of rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise Test / methods
  • Feedback, Sensory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult