Specificity of postural sway to the demands of a precision task at sea

Fu Chen Chen, Thomas Stoffregen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Mariners actively adjust their body orientation in response to ship motion. On a ship at sea, we evaluated relations between standing postural activity and the performance of a precision aiming task. Standing participants (experienced mariners) maintained the beam from a handheld laser on a target. Targets were large or small, thereby varying the difficulty of the aiming task. Targets were located in front of the participant or to the participant's right (requiring participants to look over the right shoulder), thereby varying the functional consequences (for the aiming task) of postural activity in different body axes. The torso was oriented toward the bow or toward the ship's side (athwartship), thereby varying the effects on postural activity of differential motion of the ship in its different axes. The weather was rough, producing high magnitudes of ship motion, which sometimes caused participants to step or stagger. Our manipulations influenced the magnitude and dynamics of head and torso movements, as well as the organization of movement in different axes. The results provide the first empirical confirmation that postural activity can be influenced by orientation of the torso relative to a ship. Despite powerful effects of ship motion, postural activity was influenced by variations in target location and in the difficulty of the aiming task, replicating subtle effects that have been observed on land. We discuss implications for hull design and the placement of workstations on ships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-212
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012


  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Human performance at sea
  • Postural control
  • Posture


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