Where and when do we look as we approach and step over an obstacle in the travel path?

Neuroreport. 1997 Dec 1;8(17):3661-5. doi: 10.1097/00001756-199712010-00002.


Spatio-temporal gaze behaviour patterns were analysed as normal participants wearing a mobile eye tracker approached and stepped over obstacles of varying height in the travel path. We examined the frequency and duration of three types of gaze fixation with respect to the participants' stepping patterns: obstacle fixation (ObsFix); travel fixation (TravFix) (when the gaze is stable and travelling at the speed of whole body) and fixation in the 4-6m region (Fix4-6). During the approach phase to the obstacle, participants fixated on the obstacle for approximately 20% of the travel time. Only Fix4-6 duration was modulated as a function of obstacle height by regulating the frequency and reflected the increased time needed for detection of the small low contrast obstacle in the travel path. Frequency of ObsFix increased significantly as a function of obstacle height and reflected visuo-motor transformation needed for limb elevation control. Participants did not fixate on the obstacle as they were stepping over, but did the planning in the steps before. TravFix duration and frequency was constant while Fix4-6 duration was higher in the step before and step over the obstacle reflecting visual search of the landing area for the lead limb following obstacle avoidance. These results clearly show that obstacle information provided by vision is used in a feed-forward rather than on-line control mode to regulate locomotion. Information about self-motion acquired from optic flow during TravFix can be used to control velocity of locomotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception