Physical and perceptual measures of walking surface complexity strongly predict gait and gaze behaviour.

Thomas, N. D. A., Gardiner, J. D., Crompton, R. H., & Lawson, R. (2020b).

Background : Walking surfaces vary in complexity and are known to affect stability and fall risk whilst walking. However, existing studies define surfaces through descriptions only.

Objective : This study used a multimethod approach to measure surface complexity in order to try to characterise surfaces with respect to locomotor stability.

Methods : We assessed how physical measurements of walking surface complexity compared to participant's perceptual ratings of the effect of complexity on stability. Physical measurements included local slope measures from the surfaces themselves and shape complexity measured using generated surface models. Perceptual measurements assessed participants’' perceived stability and surface roughness using Likert scales. We then determined whether these measurements were indicative of changes to stability as assessed by behavioural changes including eye angle, head pitch angle, muscle coactivation, walking speed and walking smoothness.

Results : Physical and perceptual measures were highly correlated, with more complex surfaces being perceived as more challenging to stability. Furthermore, complex surfaces, as defined from both these measurements, were associated with lowered head pitch, increased muscle coactivation and reduced walking.

Significance : Our findings show that walking surfaces defined as complex, based on physical measurements, are perceived as more challenging to our stability. Furthermore, certain behavioural measures relate better to these perceptual and physical measures than others. Crucially, for the first time this study defined walking surfaces objectively rather than just based on subjective descriptions. This approach could enable future researchers to compare results across walking surface studies. Moreover, perceptual measurements, which can be collected easily and efficiently, could be used as a proxy for estimating behavioural responses to different surfaces. This could be particularly valuable when determining risk of instability when walking for individuals with compromised stability.

Human Movement Science, 71, 102615.