Archive for the ‘P is for Proprioception’ Category

Walking Straight Into Circles

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Photo via flickr by gavinrobinson

Common belief has it that people who get lost in unfamiliar terrain often end up walking in circles. New research in the journal Current Biology suggests that, in fact, people do tend to walk in circles if they do not have a reference point such as the sun.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany recently tested the ability of humans to walk on a straight course through unfamiliar terrain in two different environments: a large forest area and the Sahara desert. Walking trajectories of several hours were captured via global positioning system, showing that participants repeatedly walked in circles when they could not see the sun. Conversely, when the sun was visible, participants sometimes veered from a straight course but did not walk in circles.

“Walking in a straight line is a complicated process when you think about it from the perspective of the brain,” said Jan Souman, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics.

Their hypothesis is that the longer people walk, their errors in relation to a straight line build up by chance to the left or right. This may result in a zigzag pattern. Over time, the tendencies to the left or right may take the person in a circle.

The researchers tested various explanations for this walking behavior by assessing the ability of people to maintain a fixed course while blindfolded. Under these conditions, participants walked in often surprisingly small circles, though rarely in a systematic direction. These results suggest that veering from a straight course is the result of accumulating noise in the sensorimotor system, which, without an external directional reference to recalibrate the subjective straight ahead, may cause people to walk in circles.

via Current Biology and CNNhealth.com

P is for Proprioception

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

If you’ve ever been stopped by a cop who’s suspicious that you’re DUI, you know that you have to close your eyes, spread your arms and touch your nose. Your ability to do this sobering feat is due to your sense of proprioception. Essentially, proprioception is your extended sense of self. Your ability to know where all of your body parts are in space, their relationship to each other, and surrounding objects. So when you type without looking, that’s proprioception. Reach for a glass of water while reading, that’s proprioception. What’s interesting today is that designers of experiences are manipulating this seemingly unknown sense in a variety of ways as research shows that our body map is surprisingly flexible if there is a tight coupling between what we see and what we feel. For instance, architect Lars Spuybroek, who states that feeling not only constructs space but our movement through space, designed a liquid environment called Water Pavilion in which there was no distinction between horizontal and vertical, no angle was square, and localized and group movements cued sensorial projections triggering a constant, inescapable out-of-balance experience. For artist-writer team, Arakawa + Gins, proprioception is the key for living forever, and has driven them to design playground living spaces in Japan that force the body to maneuver through slopes and bumps believing that if a person keeps alert and awakens instincts, death is impossible. And artist Hiro Yamagata, known for his dynamic use of light, created a disco game of holograms in his installation NGC6093 with the sole purpose of disorientating one’s sense of balance so that they may realize consciousness is highly inaccurate. As technology wii-fits forward with haptics that serve to re-invent our mobile devices so that we can actually be “mobile” and continue to concentrate on the real world, and gesture-recognition games like Mirror’s Edge advance so that we can truly become one with our avatar, it’s apparent that this malleable sense will provide us with new perceptions of ourselves and our world—even if we’ve fallen and we can’t get up. (LOL)