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Scholz - 2007 - Motor equivalent control of the center of mass in response to support surface perturbations


Scholz JP, Schöner G, Hsu WL, Jeka JJ, Horak F, Martin V. Motor equivalent control of the center of mass in response to support surface perturbations. Exp Brain Res. 2007 Jun;180(1):163-79. PUBMED

10 Word Summary

CoM is a planned variable controlled through motor equivalent joint configurations.


To claim that the center of mass (CM) of the body is a controlled variable of the postural system is difficult to verify experimentally. In this report, a new variant of the method of the uncontrolled manifold (UCM) hypothesis was used to evaluate CM control in response to an abrupt surface perturbation during stance. Subjects stood upright on a support surface that was displaced in the posterior direction. Support surface translations between 0.03 and 0.12 m, each lasting for 275 ms, were presented randomly. The UCM corresponding to all possible combinations of joints that are equivalent with respect to producing the average pre-perturbation anterior-posterior position of the center of mass (CM(AP)) were linearly estimated for each trial. At each point in time thereafter, the difference between the current joint configuration and the average pre-perturbation joint configuration was computed. This joint difference vector was then projected onto the pre-perturbation UCM as a measure of motor equivalence, and onto its complementary subspace, which represents joint combinations that lead to a different CM(AP) position. A similar analysis was performed related to control of the trunk's spatial orientation. The extent to which the joint velocity vector acted to stabilize the CM(AP) position was also examined. Excursions of the hip and ankle joints both increased linearly with perturbation magnitude. The configuration of joints at each instance during the perturbation differed from the mean configuration prior to the perturbation, as evidenced by the joint difference vector. Most of this joint difference vector was consistent, however, with the average pre-perturbation CM(AP) position rather than leading to a different CM(AP )position. This was not the case, however, when performing this analysis with respect to the UCM corresponding to the control of the pre-perturbation trunk orientation. The projection of the instantaneous joint velocity vector also was found to lie primarily in the UCM corresponding to the pre-perturbation CM(AP) position, indicating that joint motion was damped in directions leading to a change away from the pre-perturbation CM(AP) position. These results provide quantitative support for the argument that the CM position is a planned variable of the postural system and that its control is achieved through selective, motor equivalent changes in the joint configuration in response to support surface perturbations. The results suggest that the nervous system accomplishes postural control by a control strategy that considers all DOFs. This strategy presumably resists combinations of DOFs that affect the stability of important task-relevant variables (CM(AP) position) while, to a large extent, freeing from control combinations of those DOFs that have no effect on the task-relevant variables (Schöner in Ecol Psychol 8:291-314, 1995).


  • Reaction to support perturbations are thought to follow these events: first by passive biomechanical stiffness, then by automatic postural responses, followed by active tonic responses.
  • The main hypothesis is that the CNS resists joint motion that would displace the AP CoM more than joint motion that would not.
  • Backward support translations.
  • Joint velocities induced by the perturbation were differentially damped by the nervous system. 
    • The components of the joint velocities that did not move the CoM were less damped than the components of joint velocities that move the CoM.
  • Postural skill, from this vantage point then is not about learning a particular CM position but how to get to different positions from different initial joint configurations.