We are addressing the problem of disorientation and multi-tasking. An example current study is the impact of prisms on slalom walking in subjects performing cognitive tasks. We probe for effects of verbal versus spatial cognitive tasks and gender differences in performance.
Performance is with normal vision or wearing prisms deviating gaze laterally by 20°. Subjects walk a slalom around six one-metre batons, returning to sit. Each visual condition is undertaken without task, with a verbal task (over wireless headphones the subject hears a random sequence of male and female names, each uttered at random in a male or female voice) and a spatial task (the subject hears a random sequence of the words ’right’ and ‘left’ delivered at random to either the right or left ear). Stimuli matches/mismatches are indicated via a keypad.
Walking is self paced with the instruction to perform rapidly and conditions were balanced for order.
Other studies employ whole body motion in simulators to induce disorientation while undertaking a variety of cognitive tasks. These are usually loaded for spatial versus verbal difficulty.
The results of such studies have potential applications as diverse as astronauts navigating their way through the complicated internal layout of the international space station, to cognitive effects in patients with clinical balance and disorientation problems.
This project is being carried out by Professor John Golding in collaboration with Imperial College (Clinical Neuro-Otology, Medical School) and Kings College.