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A Methodology for Investigating Adaptive Postural ControlOur research on postural control and human-environment interactions provides an appropriate scientific foundation for understanding the skill of mass handling by astronauts in weightless conditions (e.g., extravehicular activity or EVA). We conducted an investigation of such skills in NASA's principal mass-handling simulator, the Precision Air-Bearing Floor, at the Johnson Space Center. We have studied skilled movement-body within a multidisciplinary context that draws on concepts and methods from biological and behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology, kinesiology and neurophysiology) as well as bioengineering. Our multidisciplinary research has led to the development of measures, for manual interactions between individuals and the substantial environment, that plausibly are observable by human sensory systems. We consider these methods to be the most important general contribution of our EVA investigation. We describe our perspective as control theoretic because it draws more on fundamental concepts about control systems in engineering than it does on working constructs from the subdisciplines of biomechanics and motor control in the bio-behavioral sciences. At the same time, we have attempted to identify the theoretical underpinnings of control-systems engineering that are most relevant to control by human beings. We believe that these underpinnings are implicit in the assumptions that cut across diverse methods in control-systems engineering, especially the various methods associated with "nonlinear control", "fuzzy control," and "adaptive control" in engineering. Our methods are based on these theoretical foundations rather than on the mathematical formalisms that are associated with particular methods in control-systems engineering. The most important aspects of the human-environment interaction in our investigation of mass handling are the functional consequences that body configuration and stability have for the pick up of information or the achievement of overt goals. It follows that an essential characteristic of postural behavior is the effective maintenance of the orientation and stability of the sensory and motor "platforms" (e.g., head or shoulders) over variations in the human, the environment and the task. This general skill suggests that individuals should be sensitive to the functional consequences of body configuration and stability. In other words, individuals should perceive the relation between configuration, stability, and performance so that they can adaptively control their interaction with the surroundings. Human-environment interactions constitute robust systems in that individuals can maintain the stability of such interactions over uncertainty about and variations in the dynamics of the interaction. Robust interactions allow individuals to adopt orientations and configurations that are not optimal with respect to purely energetic criteria. Individuals can tolerate variation in postural states, and such variation can serve an important function in adaptive systems. Postural variability generates stimulation which is "textured" by the dynamics of the human-environment system. The texture or structure in stimulation provides information about variation in dynamics, and such information can be sufficient to guide adaption in control strategies. Our method were designed to measure informative patterns of movement variability.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Document Type
Conference Paper
McDonald, P. V.
(Nascent Technologies Ltd. Houston, TX United States)
Riccio, G. E.
(Nascent Technologies Ltd. Houston, TX United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1999
Publication Information
Publication: Proceedings of the First Biennial Space Biomedical Investigators' Workshop
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 199-16-11-48
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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