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  • Mike Potegal

A study of life-long balance problems at the University of Minnesota

From Mike Potegal, PhD, neuroscientist and Assoc Prof ad Honorem, University of Minnesota

From childhood on, some people need to be especially careful about where and on what kind

of surfaces they walk on. They are wary of heights and of other challenges to balance like

tilting back or standing on one leg. Some have particular difficulties with escalators. These

people are likely to have memories of not liking to climb on things as a child, having difficulty in

learning to skate or ride a bike, not participating in sports, and not liking some amusement park

rides. They say about themselves “I like my feet on the ground” and they mean it literally.

This life-long condition is called "Gravitational insecurity "(GrI) by occupational therapists

who see individuals with these issues in the clinic. However, GrI is not yet recognized by the

greater medical community because of a lack of scientific evidence about what causes it. We

are addressing this unfortunate situation by a study whose aims are to: 1) Determine what

problems in processing the signals from the vestibular organs of balance in the inner ear might

cause GrI, 2) bring these experiences to the attention of the larger medical community so that

physicians, psychologists, and other health providers will understand what their patients are

telling them and 3) provide an empirical basis for developing interventions that might help. Our

results to date are promising but we need to test more people with GrI in the next month or so

to make sure we are on the right track

If this sounds like you, you are not “clumsy” or “crazy”. You are most likely coping with some

issues with the processing of vestibular information. You can help by participating in the study. The

study itself involves sitting down and setting a pointer in a bucket-like device to different

positions. Also, fill out a few questionnaires about your sensory experiences. The single test

session is done in an easily accessible lab on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis

campus and takes about 75 minutes.

Compensation for participation is $25.

Please contact Mike Potegal at for more information.

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