Light touch for balance: Influence of a time-varying external driving signal

Alan M. Wing, Leif Johannsen, Satoshi Endo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Sensory information about body sway is used to drive corrective muscle action to keep the body's centre of mass located over the base of support provided by the feet. Loss of vision, by closing the eyes, usually results in increased sway as indexed by fluctuations (i.e. standard deviation, s.d.) in the velocity of a marker at C7 on the neck, s.d. dC7. Variability in the rate of change of centre of pressure (s.d. dCoP), which indexes corrective muscle action, also increases during upright standing with eyes closed. Light touch contact by the tip of one finger with an environmental surface can reduce s.d. dC7 and s.d. dCoP as effectively as opening the eyes. We review studies of light touch and balance and then describe a novel paradigm for studying the nature of somatosensory information contributing to effects of light touch balance. We show that ‘light tight touch’ contact by the index finger held in the thimble of a haptic device results in increased anteroposterior (AP) sway with entraining by either simple or complex AP sinusoidal oscillations of the haptic device. Moreover, sway is also increased when the haptic device plays back the pre-recorded AP sway path of another person. Cross-correlations between hand and C7 motion reveal a 176 ms lead for the hand and we conclude that light tight touch affords an efficient route for somatosensory feedback support for balance. Furthermore, we suggest that the paradigm has potential to contribute to the understanding of interpersonal postural coordination with light touch in future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3133-3141
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1581
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Balance
  • Motor
  • Sensory

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