Experimental Brain Research, 233(8), 2357–2363p. (2015) DOI:10.1007/s00221-015-4304-y

Auditory white noise reduces postural fluctuations even in the absence of vision

J. M. Ross, R. Balasubramaniam

The contributions of somatosensory, vestibular, and visual feedback to balance control are well documented, but the influence of auditory information, especially acoustic noise, on balance is less clear. Because somatosensory noise has been shown to reduce postural sway, we hypothesized that noise from the auditory modality might have a similar effect. Given that the nervous system uses noise to optimize signal transfer, adding mechanical or auditory noise should lead to increased feedback about sensory frames of reference used in balance control. In the present experiment, postural sway was analyzed in healthy young adults where they were presented with continuous white noise, in the presence and absence of visual information. Our results show reduced postural sway variability (as indexed by the body's center of pressure) in the presence of auditory noise, even when visual information was not present. Nonlinear time series analysis revealed that auditory noise has an additive effect, independent of vision, on postural stability. Further analysis revealed that auditory noise reduced postural sway variability in both low- and high-frequency regimes (> or <0.3 Hz) of sway, suggesting that both spontaneous and feedback-driven aspects of postural fluctuations were influenced by acoustic noise. Our results support the idea that auditory white noise reduces postural sway, suggesting that auditory noise might be used for therapeutic and rehabilitation purposes in older individuals and those with balance disorders.

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