Postural adjustments to support surface perturbations during reaching depend upon body-target reference frame
We investigated whether target position relative to the body modifies the postural adjustments produced when reaching movements are perturbed by unexpected displacements of the support surface. Eleven healthy participants reached to a target located at their midline, acromion height and at 130 % their outstretched arm length. They stood on two force plates mounted on a moveable platform, capable of delivering horizontal forward ramp-and-hold perturbations. Three types of trial were given: reach only (R), perturbations only (P) and reaching movements during which a perturbation was given at a random delay after reach onset (RP). The target could be mounted either on a frame suspended from the ceiling such that it remained world-fixed (exocentric target, RP/X) or at an equivalent position on the moving platform so that it moved with the body (egocentric target, RP/E). Arm and body 3D kinematics and muscle activity from the right tibialis anterior (rTA) and soleus (rSOL) muscles were recorded. Normalised rTA activity was significantly lower in RP than in P trials. Furthermore, long-latency rTA muscle activity was lower in RP/E than in RP/X conditions when perturbations were given during either the arm deceleration phase of reaching. The rSOL muscle activity was lowest for the RP/E (arm deceleration) condition. When balance is perturbed during reaching, the manner in which the target moves relative to the body determines the muscle activity produced in the lower-limb muscles. Furthermore, a target that moves with the body requires a different regulation of muscle activity compared with one that moves independently of the body.