We explored two aspects of feed-forward postural control, anticipatory postural adjustments (APAs) and anticipatory synergy adjustments (ASAs) seen prior to self-triggered unloading with known and unknown direction of the perturbation. In particular, we tested two main hypotheses predicting contrasting changes in APAs and ASAs. The first hypothesis predicted no major changes in ASAs. The second hypothesis predicted delayed APAs with predominance of co-contraction patterns when perturbation direction was unknown. Healthy subjects stood on the force plate and held a bar with two loads acting in the forward and backward directions. They pressed a trigger that released one of the loads causing a postural perturbation. In different series, the direction of the perturbation was either known (the same load released in all trials) or unknown (the subjects did not know which of the two loads would be released). Surface electromyograms were recorded and used to quantify APAs, synergies stabilizing center of pressure coordinate (within the uncontrolled manifold hypothesis), and ASA. APAs and ASAs were seen in all conditions. APAs were delayed, and predominance of co-contraction patterns was seen under the conditions with unpredictable direction of perturbation. In contrast, no significant changes in synergies and ASAs were seen. Overall, these results show that feed-forward control of vertical posture has two distinct components, reflected in APAs and ASAs, which show qualitatively different adjustments with changes in predictability of the direction of perturbation. These results are interpreted within the recently proposed hierarchical scheme of the synergic control of motor tasks. The observations underscore the complexity of the feed-forward postural control, which involves separate changes in salient performance variables (such as coordinate of the center of pressure) and in their stability properties.
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