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Master of Science (M.S.)

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Introduction: Anxiety is induced by a perceived threatening situation and can impair the decision-making ability and maintenance of attention on relevant stimuli. The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) has been implicated in anxiety through the multiple network theory however, the PFC’s role in anxiety is poorly understood. Implementing visual perturbations increases PFC activity due to increased attentional demands, which is observed in younger adults. Due to increased attentional processes produced from visual perturbations, cortical activity can be altered.

Methods: Twenty healthy young adults performed three treadmill walking tasks, without visual cues, with visual cues and with perturbations. Cortical activity was recorded with a 22-channel, 18 optode fNIRS cap (Dual Brite MKII; Artinis Medical Systems, Netherlands). Anxiety measurements included the state-trait anxiety inventory (Spielberger et al., 1971) and heart rate variability (polar hear rate monitor). A Friedman rank sum test was performed to determine differences observed in heart rate variability RMSSD (HrvRMSSD) and mean oxyhemoglobin concentration change, among gait conditions. Mann-Whitney U tests were used to determine effects of trait anxiety on HrvRMSSD for gait conditions. Spearman rank correlations where ran between anxiety measures and PFC activity.

Results: No significant condition effect on mean oxyhemoglobin concentration change (χ2 = 3.9, p = 0.14) was found. There was a significant condition effect for HrvRMSSD (χ2 = 17.2, p < 0.001). Post hoc analysis showed a significant decrease between baseline and stepping (p = 0.003, r = 0.17) and baseline and stepping varied (p = 0.02, r = 0.24). No significant trait anxiety effects found on HrvRMSSD during baseline (p = 0.15), stepping (p=0.20) and stepping varied (p=0.08), between low and moderate trait anxiety. No correlations were found between anxiety measures and PFC activity.

Significance: The present experiment shows that PFC activity does not alter in young adults between a gait and visually perturbed gait. Further, we observed no significant change in PFC activity when anxiety, measured by HrvRMSSD, increased with gait condition difficulty. These results did not support our hypotheses, but the results will help inform protocol decisions of future investigations.


First Advisor

Douglas Martini

Second Advisor

Wouter Hoogkamer

Third Advisor

Sarah Roelker

Available for download on Sunday, September 01, 2024