The Broken Escalator Phenomenon

I never heard of this “phenomenon” until I recently saw someone blog about it. Maybe it’s just me; I don’t get out much. The official definition is explained as “the sensation that when walking onto an escalator which is stationary, one experiences an odd sensation of imbalance, despite full awareness that the escalator is not going to move.”

 Walking up or down a flight of stairs should be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. But not when it’s a stationary escalator. Then, you have to concentrate hard to avoid falling over. I personally have never experienced this, but it has to have some merit if the Academic Department of Neuro-otology, Division of Neuroscience and Psychological Medicine of the Imperial College School of Medicine in London studied it. Doesn’t that just sound official? A partial piece of the study is below.  For the full report click here.  Good luck comprehending it! 

 “We investigated the physiological basis of the ‘broken escalator phenomenon’, namely the sensation that when walking onto an escalator which is stationary one experiences an odd sensation of imbalance, despite full awareness that the escalator is not going to move…The findings represent a motor aftereffect of walking onto a moving platform that occurs despite full knowledge of the changing context. As such, it demonstrates dissociation between the declarative and procedural systems in the CNS. Since gait velocity was raised before foot-sled contact, the findings are at least partly explained by open-loop, predictive behaviour. A cautious strategy of limb stiffness was not responsible for the aftereffect, as revealed by no increase in muscle cocontraction.”

Alright, now that we have cleared that up, if you Google “Broken Escalator Phenomenon,” you can find out a lot more, including a little education on what this teaches us about balance, the sensory influences that are involved and a myriad of other minor studies. Who knew?

Well, that’s enough technical jargon for one day. After all, it is Friday, the weekend looms and big decisions await — sofa or recliner, thermostat at 68 or 70 degrees, flannel or cotton, Wii or television, tuna or salad (or both!). . .

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