Effects of Single Compared to Dual Task Practice on Learning a Dynamic Balance Task in Young Adults

Background: In everyday life, people engage in situations involving the concurrent processing of motor (balance) and cognitive tasks (i.e., “dual task situations”) that result in performance declines in at least one of the given tasks. The concurrent practice of both the motor and cognitive task may counteract these performance decrements. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of single task (ST) compared to dual task (DT) practice on learning a dynamic balance task.
Methods: Forty-eight young adults were randomly assigned to either a ST (i.e., motor or cognitive task training only) or a DT (i.e., motor-cognitive training) practice condition. The motor task required participants to stand on a platform and keeping the platform as close to horizontal as possible. In the cognitive task, participants were asked to recite serial subtractions of three. For 2 days, participants of the ST groups practiced the motor or cognitive task only, while the participants of the DT group concurrently performed both. Root-mean-square error (RMSE) for the motor and total number of correct calculations for the cognitive task were computed.
Results: During practice, all groups improved their respective balance and/or cognitive task performance. With regard to the assessment of learning on day 3, we found significantly smaller RMSE values for the ST motor (d = 1.31) and the DT motor-cognitive (d = 0.76) practice group compared to the ST cognitive practice group but not between the ST motor and the DT motor-cognitive practice group under DT test condition. Further, we detected significantly larger total numbers of correct calculations under DT test condition for the ST cognitive (d = 2.19) and the DT motor-cognitive (d = 1.55) practice group compared to the ST motor practice group but not between the ST cognitive and the DT motor-cognitive practice group.
Conclusion: We conclude that ST practice resulted in an effective modulation of the trained domain (i.e., motor or cognitive) while only DT practice resulted in an effective modulation of both domains (i.e., motor and cognitive). Thus, particularly DT practice frees up central resources that were used for an effective modulation of motor and cognitive processing mechanisms.


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