Worth a Thousand Words

This week’s featured image comes from the manuscript, Tradeoff between Stability and Maneuverability during Whole-Body Movements by Drs. Alaa Ahmed and Helen Huang at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In the paper, the authors tested if a person’s maneuverability comes at the expense of his or her stability.  Standing on a balancing board, the subjects were asked to lean forward and use their center of pressure (CoP) to move a cursor toward a target on a computer monitor. The image above (Figure 1) illustrates the set-up and protocol of this experiment.

From the abstract:


Understanding how stability and/or maneuverability affects motor control strategies can provide insight on moving about safely in an unpredictable world. Stability in human movement has been well-studied while maneuverability has not. Further, a tradeoff between stability and maneuverability during movement seems apparent, yet has not been quantified. We proposed that greater maneuverability, the ability to rapidly and purposefully change movement direction and speed, is beneficial in uncertain environments. We also hypothesized that gaining maneuverability comes at the expense of stability and perhaps also corresponds with decreased muscle coactivation.

Materials and Methods

We used a goal-directed forward lean movement task that integrated both stability and maneuverability. Subjects (n = 11) used their center of pressure to control a cursor on a computer monitor to reach a target. We added task uncertainty by shifting the target anterior-posterior position mid-movement. We used a balance board with a narrow beam that reduced the base of support in the medio-lateral direction and defined stability as the probability that subjects could keep the balance board level during the task.


During the uncertainty condition, subjects were able to change direction of their anterior-posterior center of pressure more rapidly, indicating that subjects were more maneuverable. Furthermore, medio-lateral center of pressure excursions also approached the edges of the beam and reduced stability margins, implying that subjects were less stable (i.e. less able to keep the board level). On the narrow beam board, subjects increased muscle coactivation of lateral muscle pairs and had greater muscle activity in the left leg. However, there were no statistically significant differences in muscle activity amplitudes or coactivation with uncertainty.


These results demonstrate that there is a tradeoff between stability and maneuverability during a goal-directed whole-body movement. Tasks with added uncertainty could help individuals learn to be more maneuverable yet sufficiently stable.

Citation: Huang HJ, Ahmed AA (2011) Tradeoff between Stability and Maneuverability during Whole-Body Movements. PLoS ONE 6(7): e21815. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021815

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