Double-Step Paradigm in Microgravity: Preservation of Sensorimotor Flexibility in Altered Gravitational Force Field

  • Bringoux L.
  • Macaluso T.
  • Sainton P.
  • Chomienne L.
  • Buloup F.
  • Mouchnino L.
  • Simoneau M.
  • Blouin Jean

  • Reaching
  • Pointing
  • Arm kinematics
  • Sensorimotor adaptation
  • Double-step paradigm
  • Microgravity
  • Parabolic flight
  • Weightlessness


The way we can correct our ongoing movements to sudden and unforeseen perturbations is key to our ability to rapidly adjust our behavior to novel environmental demands. Referred to as sensorimotor flexibility, this ability can be assessed by the double-step paradigm in which participants must correct their ongoing arm movements to reach targets that unexpectedly change location (i.e., target jump). While this type of corrections has been demonstrated in normogravity in the extent of reasonable spatiotemporal constraints underpinning the target jumps, less is known about sensorimotor flexibility in altered gravitational force fields. We thus aimed to assess sensorimotor flexibility by comparing online arm pointing corrections observed during microgravity episodes of parabolic flights with normogravity standards. Seven participants were asked to point as fast and as accurately as possible toward one of two visual targets with their right index finger. The targets were aligned vertically in the mid-sagittal plane and were separated by 10 cm. In 20% of the trials, the initially illuminated lower target was switched off at movement onset while the upper target was concomitantly switched on prompting participants to change the trajectory of their ongoing movements. Results showed that, both in normogravity and microgravity, participants successfully performed the pointing task including when the target jumped unexpectedly (i.e., comparable success rate). Most importantly, no significant difference was found in target jump trials regarding arm kinematics between both gravitational environments, neither in terms of peak velocity, relative deceleration duration, peak acceleration or time to peak acceleration. Using inverse dynamics based on experimental and anthropometrical data, we demonstrated that the shoulder torques for accelerating and decelerating the vertical arm movements substantially differed between microgravity and normogravity. Our data therefore highlight the capacity of the central nervous system to perform very fast neuromuscular adjustments that are adapted to the gravitational constraints. We discuss our findings by considering the contribution of feedforward and feedback mechanisms in the online control of arm pointing movements.