A method to assess response inhibition during a balance recovery step

Molly Rowley, Jayme Warner, Sara A. Harper, Anne Z. Beethe, Robert Whelan, Kathy L. Ruddy, David A.E. Bolton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)



Correlations between falls and individual differences in inhibitory control, suggest the ability to suppress automatic, but unwanted, action is important in fall prevention. Response inhibition has been a topic of considerable interest in the cognitive neuroscience community for many decades, bringing a wealth of techniques that could potentially inform assessment of reactive balance. For example, the stop signal task is a popular method to quantify inhibitory control ability.

Research question

Can we apply the stop signal task to measure response inhibition in a balance recovery task?


Twenty healthy, young adults completed a novel reactive balance test that required occasional suppression of a balance recovery step. Participants were released from a supported lean (‘Go’ cue) requiring them to quickly step forward to regain balance. On some trials, a tone (‘Stop’ cue) instructed participants to suppress a step and relax into a harness. Step trials were more frequent (80%) than stop trials (20%) to bias a rapid stepping response. The stop tone was presented at various delays following cable release, to manipulate task difficulty (i.e., longer delays make step suppression difficult). Individual differences in inhibitory control were determined using lift off times from force plates, and by contrasting muscle activation in failed compared to successful stop trials.


Most participants were able to successfully suppress a balance recovery step on occasion, allowing for accurate estimation of individual differences in inhibitory control. The successful suppression of a balance recovery step was more likely in the group (n = 10) where shorter stop signal delays were used (i.e., the task was easier).


While balance assessments often stress reflexive action, there is a need for methods that evaluate response inhibition. The present study leveraged a well-established cognitive test of inhibitory control to develop a method to quantify stopping ability in a reactive balance context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-62
Number of pages7
JournalGait and Posture
Early online date19 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the American Heart Association, USA (Postdoctoral Fellowship 20POST34990005, SAH).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • Balance recovery step
  • Executive function
  • Reactive balance
  • Response inhibition
  • Stop signal task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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