Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Rehabilitation Sciences


Kinesiology and Rehabilitation

Committee Director

Steven Morrison

Committee Member

Daniel Russell

Committee Member

Tara Newcomb


Chewing gum and walking has traditionally been cited as the quintessentially difficult dual task, but little is known regarding chewing effects on motor control. The aims of this dissertation include describing chewing patterns across adulthood, describing chewing’s influence on secondary motor tasks, and investigate entrainment patterns of chewing and gait per established patterns of coupled oscillators. Three experiments were conducted to describe chewing patterns and to examine the effect chewing has on other motor tasks, particularly walking, in young and old adults. The first experiment used a metronome to manipulate chewing rates and measured associated gait parameters. This experiment established that chewing affects gait. As chewing speed increases or decreases, step rate also changes accordingly. Tasks such as walking, finger tapping, and simple reaction time all slow with advancing age. This experiment established chewing as a task resistant to neuromotor slowing with age. The second experiment examined the effect of chewing on a variety of secondary motor tasks. This experiment confirmed that chewing interferes with performance of a discrete secondary task, such as reaction time, whereas chewing entrains with cyclic movements, like finger tapping and gait. The final experiment varied the timing of when chewing was initiated to highlight the inherent organization of task influence. This experiment confirmed that chewing consistently impacts gait, but not vice versa. A top-down hierarchy where chewing drives changes in gait was substantiated. The physiological basis for the observed behavior is discussed in terms of coupled neural oscillators, such as the central pattern generators in the hindbrain and spinal cord. The findings from the series of experiments highlights oral sensory information as a potentially novel method of influencing movement patterns throughout adulthood. The functional implications of chewing are paramount to survival, but the connection between the mouth and the legs has not been well documented. Understanding the mechanisms associated with this inimitable relationship whereby the mouth is driving leg motion during gait could lead to innovative rehabilitative techniques for gait training.


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