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posted on 01.03.2018, 04:02 by Elisa Pelosin, Ambra Bisio, Thierry Pozzo, Giovanna Lagravinese, Oscar Crisafulli, Roberta Marchese, Giovanni Abbruzzese, Laura Avanzino

Postural reactions can be influenced by concomitant tasks or different contexts and are modulated by a higher order motor control. Recent studies investigated postural changes determined by motor contagion induced by action observation (chameleon effect) showing that observing a model in postural disequilibrium induces an increase in healthy subjects’ body sway. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is associated with postural instability and impairments in cognitively controlled balance tasks. However, no studies investigated if viewing postural imbalance might influence postural stability in PD and if patients are able to inhibit a visual postural perturbation. In this study, an action observation paradigm for assessing postural reaction to motor contagion in PD subjects and healthy older adults was used. Postural stability changes were measured during the observation of a static stimulus (control condition) and during a point-light display of a gymnast balancing on a rope (biological stimulus). Our results showed that, during the observation of the biological stimulus, sway area and antero-posterior and medio-lateral displacements of center of pressure significantly increased only in PD participants, whereas correct stabilization reactions were present in elderly subjects. These results demonstrate that PD leads to a decreased capacity to control automatic imitative tendencies induced by motor contagion. This behavior could be the consequence either of an inability to inhibit automatic imitative tendencies or of the cognitive load requested by the task. Whatever the case, the issue about the ability to inhibit automatic imitative tendencies could be crucial for PD patients since it might increase falls risk and injuries.