Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 08 May 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00288

Your brain on speed: cognitive performance of a spatial working memory task is not affected by walking speed

  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
  • 2School of Kinesiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

When humans walk in everyday life, they typically perform a range of cognitive tasks while they are on the move. Past studies examining performance changes in dual cognitive-motor tasks during walking have produced a variety of results. These discrepancies may be related to the type of cognitive task chosen, differences in the walking speeds studied, or lack of controlling for walking speed. The goal of this study was to determine how young, healthy subjects performed a spatial working memory task over a range of walking speeds. We used high-density electroencephalography to determine if electrocortical activity mirrored changes in cognitive performance across speeds. Subjects stood (0.0 m/s) and walked (0.4, 0.8, 1.2, and 1.6 m/s) with and without performing a Brooks spatial working memory task. We hypothesized that performance of the spatial working memory task and the associated electrocortical activity would decrease significantly with walking speed. Across speeds, the spatial working memory task caused subjects to step more widely compared with walking without the task. This is typically a sign that humans are adapting their gait dynamics to increase gait stability. Several cortical areas exhibited power fluctuations time-locked to memory encoding during the cognitive task. In the somatosensory association cortex, alpha power increased prior to stimulus presentation and decreased during memory encoding. There were small significant reductions in theta power in the right superior parietal lobule and the posterior cingulate cortex around memory encoding. However, the subjects did not show a significant change in cognitive task performance or electrocortical activity with walking speed. These findings indicate that in young, healthy subjects walking speed does not affect performance of a spatial working memory task. These subjects can devote adequate cortical resources to spatial cognition when needed, regardless of walking speed.

Keywords: locomotion, EEG, brain imaging, dual-tasking, spatial working memory

Citation: Kline JE, Poggensee K and Ferris DP (2014) Your brain on speed: cognitive performance of a spatial working memory task is not affected by walking speed. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:288. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00288

Received: 19 February 2014; Accepted: 18 April 2014;
Published online: 08 May 2014.

Edited by:

Ulf Ziemann, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Germany

Reviewed by:

Sabine Schaefer, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany
Daniel Weiss, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Germany

Copyright © 2014 Kline, Poggensee and Ferris. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Julia E. Kline, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan, 401 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48108, USA e-mail: jekline@umich.edu

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