The impact of divided attention on automatic postural responses: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Andrew S. Monaghan, Hanna Johansson, Alexis Torres, Gene A. Brewer, Daniel S. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Quick responses to a loss of balance or “automatic postural responses” (APRs) are critical for fall prevention. The addition of a distracting task— dual-tasking (DT), typically worsens performance on mobility tasks. However, the effect of DT on APRs is unclear. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analyses to examine the effects of DT on spatial, temporal, and neuromuscular components of APRs and the effect of DT on cognitive performance. A Meta-analysis of 19 cohorts (n = 329) showed significant worsening in spatial kinematic features of APRs under DT conditions (P = 0.01), and a meta-analysis of 9 cohorts (n = 123) demonstrated later muscle onset during DT (P = 0.003). No significant DT effect was observed for temporal kinematic outcomes in 18 cohorts (n = 328; P = 0.47). Finally, significant declines in cognitive performance were evident in 20 cohorts (n = 400; P = 0.002). These results indicate that, despite the somewhat reactive nature of APRs, the addition of a secondary task negatively impacts some aspects of the response. These findings underscore the importance of cortical structures in APR generation. Given the importance of APRs for falls, identifying aspects of APRs that are altered under DT may inform fall-prevention treatment approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111759
JournalExperimental Gerontology
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022


  • Aging
  • Automatic postural responses
  • Dual-tasking
  • Neurologic conditions
  • Orthopedic conditions
  • Protective stepping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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