Did you even see that? visual sensory processing of single stimuli under different locomotor load
Modern living and working environments are more and more interspersed with the concurrent execution of locomotion and sensory processing, most often in the visual domain. Many job profiles involve the presentation of visual information while walking, for example in warehouse logistics work, where a worker has to manage walking to the correct aisle to pick up a package while being presented with visual information over data-glasses concerning the next order. Similar use-cases can be found in manufacturing jobs, for example in car montage assembly lines where next steps are presented via augmented reality headsets while walking at a slow pace. Considering the overall scarcity of cognitive resources available to be deployed to either the cognitive or motor processes, task performance decrements were found when increasing load in either domain. Interestingly, the walking motion also had beneficial effects on peripheral contrast detection and the inhibition of visual stream information. Taking these findings into account, we conducted a study that comprised the detection of single visual targets (Landolt Cs) within a broad range of the visual field (-40° to +40° visual angle) while either standing, walking, or walking with concurrent perturbations. We used questionnaire (NASA-TLX), behavioral (response times and accuracy), and neurophysiological data (ERPs and ERSPs) to quantify the effects of cognitive-motor interference. The study was conducted in a Gait Real-time Analysis Interactive Laboratory (GRAIL), using a 180° projection screen and a swayable and tiltable dual-belt treadmill. Questionnaire and behavioral measures showed common patterns. We found increasing subjective physical workload and behavioral decrements with increasing stimulus eccentricity and motor complexity. Electrophysiological results also indicated decrements in stimulus processing with higher stimulus eccentricity and movement complexity (P3, Theta), but highlighted a beneficial role when walking without perturbations and processing more peripheral stimuli regarding earlier sensory components (N1pc/N2pc, N2). These findings suggest that walking without impediments can enhance the visual processing of peripheral information and therefore help with perceiving non-foveal sensory content. Also, our results could help with re-evaluating previous findings in the context of cognitive-motor interference, as increased motor complexity might not always impede cognitive processing and performance.