We explored the relations between indices of mechanical stability of vertical posture and synergy indices under unexpected perturbations. The main hypotheses predicted higher posture-stabilizing synergy indices and higher mechanical indices of center of pressure stability during perturbations perceived by subjects as less challenging. Healthy subjects stood on a force platform and held in fully extended arms a bar attached to two loads acting downward and upward. One of the loads was unexpectedly released by the experimenter causing a postural perturbations. In different series, subjects either knew or did not know which of the two loads would be released. Forward perturbations were perceived as more challenging and accompanied by co-activation patterns among the main agonist–antagonist pairs. Backward perturbation led to reciprocal muscle activation patterns and was accompanied by indices of mechanical stability and of posture-stabilizing synergy which indicated higher stability. Changes in synergy indices were observed as early as 50–100 ms following the perturbation reflecting involuntary mechanisms. In contrast, predictability of perturbation direction had weak or no effect on mechanical and synergy indices of stability. These observations are interpreted within a hierarchical scheme of synergic control of motor tasks and a hypothesis on the control of movements with shifts of referent coordinates. The findings show direct correspondence between stability indices based on mechanics and on the analysis of multi-muscle synergies. They suggest that involuntary posture-stabilizing mechanisms show synergic organization. They also show that predictability of perturbation direction has strong effects on anticipatory postural adjustment but not corrective adjustments. We offer an interpretation of co-activation patterns that questions their contribution to postural stability.
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