Dynamic perception of dynamic affordances: walking on a ship at sea

Hannah Walter, Jeffrey B. Wagman, Nick Stergiou, Nurtekin Erkmen, Thomas A. Stoffregen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Motion of the surface of the sea (waves, and swell) causes oscillatory motion of ships at sea. Generally, ships are longer than they are wide. One consequence of this structural difference is that oscillatory ship motion typically will be greater in roll (i.e., the ship rolling from side to side) than in pitch (i.e., the bow and stern rising and falling). For persons on ships at sea, affordances for walking on the open deck should be differentially influenced by ship motion in roll and pitch. Specifically, the minimum width of a walkable path should be greater when walking along the ship’s short, or athwart axis than when walking along its long, or fore-aft axis. On a ship at sea, we evaluated the effects of walking in different directions (fore-aft vs. athwart) on actual walking performance. We did this by laying out narrow paths on the deck and asking participants (experienced maritime crewmembers) to walk as far as they could while remaining within the lateral path boundaries. As predicted, participants walked farther along the athwart path than along the fore-aft path. Before actual walking, we evaluated participants’ judgments of their walking ability in the fore-aft and athwart directions. These judgments mirrored the observed differences in walking performance, and the accuracy of judgments did not differ between the two directions. We conclude that experienced maritime crewmembers were sensitive to affordances for walking in which the relevant properties of the environment were exclusively dynamic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-524
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Captain Russ Delany of the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, and Douglas Russell, Port Captain. Nurtekin Erkmen’s participation was made possible through the support of Selçuk University. Nick Stergiou was supported by the NIH (P20GM109090 and R15HD086828).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Affordance
  • Biomechanics
  • Gait
  • Motor control
  • Posture


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