Why are you tripping?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Division of Kinesiology, Daniel Ferris
A test volunteer is having electrodes placed on his head that can track his brain activity during a fall.

You’re walking down the hallway in school, and suddenly your foot doesn’t land on the floor just right. The rest of your body wobbles around slightly and you struggle to keep your balance, but BAM, you’ve fallen to the ground in front of everyone! You’re body is normally agile with cat-like reflexes, so why do you trip over yourself occasionally?

Researchers from the University of Michigan had the same question, so they tested the balance of several young students in a lab to see what was going on in their brains.

The researchers equipped each participant with an electroencephalogram (EEG) – a machine that measures brain activity – while the students walked on a treadmill balance beam. They then observed how each brain reacted to falling, and believe me, plenty of students fell! “We’re using an EEG in a way others don’t, to look at what’s going on inside the brain,” said Daniel Ferris, a professor in kinesiology. “We were able to determine what parts of the brain first identify when you are losing your balance during walking.”

The results basically showed that while the brain sensed and responded to the fall, the muscles were too slow to react! The researchers say understanding this lag between mind and body will shed light on why elderly people tend to fall more.

Featured image courtesy of West Point on Flickr. Image of test volunteer courtesy of Ferris Lab and University of Michigan.