Slow maturation of planning in obstacle avoidance in humans

Sharissa H A Corporaal, Stephan P. Swinnen*, Jacques Duysens, Sjoerd M. Bruijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Complex gait (e.g., obstacle avoidance) requires a higher cognitive load than simple steady-state gait, which is a more automated movement. The higher levels of the central nervous system, responsible for adjusting motor plans to complex gait, develop throughout childhood into adulthood. Therefore, we hypothesize that gait strategies in complex gait are likely to mature until adulthood as well. However, little is known about the maturation of complex gait from childhood into adolescence and adulthood. To address this issue, we investigated obstacle avoidance in forty-four 8- to 18-yr-old participants who walked at preferred speed along a 6-m walkway on which a planar obstacle (150% of step length, 1 m wide) was projected. Participants avoided the obstacle by stepping over this projection, while lower body kinematics were recorded. Results showed that step length and speed adjustments during successful obstacle avoidance were similar across all ages, even though younger children modified step width to a greater extent. Additionally, the younger children used larger maximal toe elevations and take-off distances than older children. Moreover, during unsuccessful trials, younger children deployed exaggerated take-off distances, which resulted in obstacle contact upon the consecutive heel strike. These results indicate that obstacle avoidance is not fully matured in younger children, and that the inability to plan precise foot placements is an important factor contributing to failures in obstacle avoidance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)404-412
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2016


  • Children
  • Development
  • Limb control
  • Locomotion
  • Obstacle avoidance


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