seal of the Univeristy of Oregon  



Institute of Neuroscience Faculty

Marjorie Woollacott
Marjorie Woollacott

Professor , Department of Human Physiology
B.A., 1968
Ph.D., 1973, University of Southern California

Research Interests
Postural control systems in humans; characterization of changes in neural processing systems across the life-span


Movement independence requires the ability to balance independently and to adapt balance abilities to a variety of contexts. Postural or balance control is the foundation underlying performance of most other movement tasks, such as walking and eye-hand coordination skills.

Marjorie Woollacott has been the director of the Motor Control Lab at the University of Oregon since 1980. One of her areas of expertise is aging and falls. She is exploring the factors leading to loss of balance function in the older adult, in order to improve the quality of life and independence of adults well into old age. In addition, she is studying the development of balance control in normal children and in children with motor problems such as Cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome. She is currently designing new assessment and treatment strategies to improve balance function in both the child with motor problems and in the older adult who is prone to losses of balance and falls. She also has ongoing studies on sensory contributions to music performance, in collaboration with Steve Pologe, professor of cello performance in the School of Music, and studies on attentional network changes associated with meditation practice.

She has co-authored with Dr. Anne Shumway-Cook a major textbook used in Physical Therapy schools across the US and Europe titled "Motor Control: Theory and Practical Applications" (Williams and Wilkins), with its 3rd edition in press. She has ongoing grants from National Institutes of Health to study balance and falls in the older adult and to study balance in children control problems in children with cerebral palsy. She is also past president of the International Society for Posture and Gait Research..

In the studies on aging and balance control, older adults are asked to walk across a platform that may unexpectedly move forward, simulating a slip on ice or another slippery surface. Muscles that are activated to restore balance are tibialis anterior (TA), rectus femoris (RF), gluteus medius (GME) and abdominals (AB). The graphs plot muscle response onset latency, burst duration and burst magnitude of these muscles for young (clear bars) vs older (dotted bars) adults. Note that older adults have delayed onset latencies, longer burst durations and smaller burst magnitudes than young adults. (The * indicates significant differences)

woollacott research

Representative Publications

top of page


University of Oregon

Last Updated 2/29/2012 -