Effects of spatial and nonspatial cognitive activity on postural stability

EA Maylor, Sue Allison, Alan Wing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

135 Citations (Scopus)


Is postural stability controlled automatically, or is it affected by concurrent cognitive activity? Are the effects influenced by the nature of the cognitive activity required, and do they increase in old age ? To address these questions, 70 participants aged 20-79 years were asked to stand as still as possible on a force platform (postural control task) while performing (a) no cognitive task, (b) a spatial memory task, and (c) a nonspatial memory task. The memory tasks were also performed while seated as a comparison condition. Both spatial and nonspatial memory recall declined with increasing age but were unaffected by position (standing vs, seated). Postural stability declined with age; moreover, there was support for an earlier finding that age decline was greatest when performing the spatial memory task. Each recording period was split into two phases which, for the spatial and nonspatial memory tasks, corresponded to encoding and maintaining the stimuli. In comparison with no task, participants were more stable when encoding stimuli (particularly in the spatial task), but they were less stable when maintaining stimuli (particularly in the nonspatial task). The results suggest that postural stability can be affected by cognitive activity in complex ways, depending on the age of participants, the type of cognitive task (spatial vs. nonspatial), and the cognitive processing required (encoding vs, maintenance).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-338
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2001


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