Human-Human interaction forces and interlimb coordination during side-by-side walking with hand contact

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Handholding can naturally occur between two walkers. When people walk side-by-side, either with or without hand contact, they often synchronize their steps. However, despite the importance of haptic interaction in general and the natural use of hand contact between humans during walking, few studies have investigated forces arising from physical interactions. Eight pairs of adult subjects participated in this study. They walked on side-by-side treadmills at 4 km/h independently and with hand contact. Only hand contact-related sensory information was available for unintentional synchronization, while visual and auditory communication was obstructed. Subjects walked at their natural cadences or following a metronome. Limb kinematics, hand contact 3D interaction forces and EMG activity of 12 upper limb muscles were recorded. Overall, unintentional step frequency locking was observed during about 40% of time in 88% of pairs walking with hand contact. On average, the amplitude of contact arm oscillations decreased while the contralateral (free) arm oscillated in the same way as during normal walking. Interestingly, EMG activity of the shoulder muscles of the contact arm did not decrease, and their synergistic pattern remained similar. The amplitude of interaction forces and of trunk oscillations was similar for synchronized and non-synchronized steps, though the synchronized steps were characterized by significantly more regular orientations of interaction forces. Our results further support the notion that gait synchronization during natural walking is common, and that it may occur through interaction forces. Conservation of the proximal muscle activity of the contact (not oscillating) arm is consistent with neural coupling between cervical and lumbosacral pattern generation circuitries ("quadrupedal" arm-leg coordination) during human gait. Overall, the findings suggest that individuals might integrate force interaction cues to communicate and coordinate steps during walking.

Original languageEnglish
Article number179
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - Mar 7 2018


  • Arm-leg coordination
  • EMG activity
  • Human gait
  • Interaction forces
  • Interpersonal coordination
  • Locomotor patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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