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Performance-Stabilizing Synergies in a Complex Motor Skill: Analysis Based on the Uncontrolled Manifold Hypothesis

Fariba Hasanbarani and Mark L. Latash

The authors studied indices of stability (ΔV) of two time-varying variables, hand coordinate and velocity, during accurate throw of a small ball into the basket. Ten participants performed the throwing task with eyes-open (vision) and -closed (no vision) conditions. In the latter condition, participants closed their eyes prior to initiating the throw. The intertrial variance in the joint configuration space (and joint velocity space) was analyzed based on the uncontrolled manifold hypothesis. The results confirmed the presence of both coordinate- and velocity-stabilizing synergies (ΔV > 0). Intertrial variance was larger in the no-vision condition compared with the vision condition. Over the movement duration, ΔV did not change for the coordinate-related analysis but dropped consistently for the velocity-related analysis. The authors interpret the findings within the idea of hierarchical control and trade-off between synergy indices at different levels of the hierarchy.

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On the Problem of Adequate Language in Motor Control

Israel M. Gelfand and Mark L. Latash

An adequate language is a prerequisite for progress in any area of science, including movement science. Notions of structural units and synergies and the principle of minimal interaction are revisited, discussed, and illustrated with a few examples from recent studies. Equilibrium-point hypothesis is considered an example of identifying significant variables in the control of a voluntary movement.

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30 Years Later: The Relation between Structure and Function in the Brain from a Contemporary Point of View (1966), Part 1

Lev P. Latash, Mark L. Latash, and Onno G. Meijer

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30 Years Later: On the Problem of the Relation between Structure and Function in the Brain from a Contemporary Viewpoint (1966), Part II

Lev P. Latash, Mark L. Latash, and Onno G. Meuer

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Effects of Voluntary Agonist–Antagonist Coactivation on Stability of Vertical Posture

Momoko Yamagata, Ali Falaki, and Mark L. Latash

We explored the effects of voluntary coactivation of agonist–antagonist leg and trunk muscles on stability of vertical posture. Young healthy subjects performed several tasks while standing with no additional muscle coactivation, low coactivation, and high coactivation. Postural stability was estimated using indices of postural sway and of intertrial variance in the space of muscle groups with parallel scaling of activation levels (M-modes). An increase in coactivation led to a significant increase in the postural sway speed reflected in faster rambling and trembling trajectories. Coactivation also led to a relative drop in the variance component that had no effects on the center of pressure coordinate and an increase in the component that shifted the center of pressure. We conclude that additional muscle coactivation does not help to stabilize vertical posture and is more likely to lead to postural destabilization. The results are consistent with an earlier hypothesis on muscle coactivation ensuring abundance (excessive degrees of freedom) at the level of control variables.

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The Role of Imitation, Primitives, and Spatial Referent Coordinates in Motor Control: Implications for Writing and Reading

Shelia Guberman and Mark L. Latash

We review a body of literature related to the drawing and recognition of geometrical two-dimensional linear drawings including letters. Handwritten letters are viewed not as two-dimensional geometrical objects but as one-dimensional trajectories of the tip of the implement. Handwritten letters are viewed as composed of a small set of kinematic primitives. Recognition of objects is mediated by processes of their creation (actual or imagined)—the imitation principle, a particular example of action–perception coupling. The concept of spatial directional field guiding the trajectories is introduced and linked to neuronal population vectors. Further, we link the kinematic description to the theory of control with spatial referent coordinates. This framework allows interpreting a number of experimental observations and clinical cases of agnosia. It also allows formulating predictions for new experimental studies of writing.

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Do Synergies Improve Accuracy? A Study of Speed-Accuracy Trade-Offs during Finger Force Production

Stacey L. Gorniak, Marcos Duarte, and Mark L. Latash

We explored possible effects of negative covariation among finger forces in multifinger accurate force production tasks on the classical Fitts’s speed-accuracy trade-off. Healthy subjects performed cyclic force changes between pairs of targets “as quickly and accurately as possible.” Tasks with two force amplitudes and six ratios of force amplitude to target size were performed by each of the four fingers of the right hand and four finger combinations. There was a close to linear relation between movement time and the log-transformed ratio of target amplitude to target size across all finger combinations. There was a close to linear relation between standard deviation of force amplitude and movement time. There were no differences between the performance of either of the two “radial” fingers (index and middle) and the multifinger tasks. The “ulnar” fingers (little and ring) showed higher indices of variability and longer movement times as compared with both “radial” fingers and multifinger combinations. We conclude that potential effects of the negative covariation and also of the task-sharing across a set of fingers are counterbalanced by an increase in individual finger force variability in multifinger tasks as compared with single-finger tasks. The results speak in favor of a feed-forward model of multifinger synergies. They corroborate a hypothesis that multifinger synergies are created not to improve overall accuracy, but to allow the system larger flexibility, for example to deal with unexpected perturbations and concomitant tasks.

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Intramuscle Synergies: Their Place in the Neural Control Hierarchy

Mark L. Latash, Shirin Madarshahian, and Joseph M. Ricotta

We accept a definition of synergy introduced by Nikolai Bernstein and develop it for various actions, from those involving the whole body to those involving a single muscle. Furthermore, we use two major theoretical developments in the field of motor control—the idea of hierarchical control with spatial referent coordinates and the uncontrolled manifold hypothesis—to discuss recent studies of synergies within spaces of individual motor units (MUs) recorded within a single muscle. During the accurate finger force production tasks, MUs within hand extrinsic muscles form robust groups, with parallel scaling of the firing frequencies. The loading factors at individual MUs within each of the two main groups link them to the reciprocal and coactivation commands. Furthermore, groups are recruited in a task-specific way with gains that covary to stabilize muscle force. Such force-stabilizing synergies are seen in MUs recorded in the agonist and antagonist muscles but not in the spaces of MUs combined over the two muscles. These observations reflect inherent trade-offs between synergies at different levels of a control hierarchy. MU-based synergies do not show effects of hand dominance, whereas such effects are seen in multifinger synergies. Involuntary, reflex-based, force changes are stabilized by intramuscle synergies but not by multifinger synergies. These observations suggest that multifinger (multimuscle synergies) are based primarily on supraspinal circuitry, whereas intramuscle synergies reflect spinal circuitry. Studies of intra- and multimuscle synergies promise a powerful tool for exploring changes in spinal and supraspinal circuitry across patient populations.

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Postural Preparation to Making a Step: Is There a “Motor Program” for Postural Preparation?

Adriana M. Degani, Alessander Danna-Dos-Santos, and Mark L. Latash

We tested the hypothesis that a sequence of mechanical events occurs preceding a step that scales in time and magnitude as a whole in a task-specific manner, and is a reflection of a “motor program.” Young subjects made a step under three speed instructions and four tasks: stepping straight ahead, down a stair, up a stair, and over an obstacle. Larger center-of-pressure (COP) and force adjustments in the anteriorposterior direction and smaller COP and force adjustments in the mediolateral direction were seen during stepping forward and down a stair, as compared with the tasks of stepping up a stair and over an obstacle. These differences were accentuated during stepping under the simple reaction time instruction. These results speak against the hypothesis of a single motor program that would underlie postural preparation to stepping. They are more compatible with the reference configuration hypothesis of whole-body actions.

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A Technique to Determine Friction at the Fingertips

Adriana V. Savescu, Mark L. Latash, and Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky

This article proposes a technique to calculate the coefficient of friction for the fingertip– object interface. Twelve subjects (6 males and 6 females) participated in two experiments. During the first experiment (the imposed displacement method), a 3-D force sensor was moved horizontally while the subjects applied a specified normal force (4 N, 8 N, 12 N) on the surface of a sensor covered with different materials (sandpaper, cotton, rayon, polyester, and silk).The normal force and the tangential force (i.e., the force due to the sensor motion) were recorded. The coefficient of frictiond) was calculated as the ratio between the tangential force and the normal force. In the second experiment (the beginning slip method), a small instrumented object was gripped between the index finger and the thumb, held stationary in the air, and then allowed to drop. The weight (200 g, 500 g, and 1,000 g) and the surface (sandpaper, cotton, rayon, polyester, and silk) in contact with the digits varied across trials. The same sensor as in the first experiment was used to record the normal force (in a horizontal direction) and the tangential force (in the vertical direction). The slip force (i.e., the minimal normal force or grip force necessary to prevent slipping) was estimated as the force at the moment when the object just began to slip. The coefficient of friction was calculated as the ratio between the tangential force and the slip force. The results show that (1) the imposed displacement method is reliable; (2) except sandpaper, for all other materials the coefficient of friction did not depend on the normal force; (3) the skin–sandpaper coefficient of friction was the highest µd = 0.96 ± 0.09 (for 4-N normal force) and the skin–rayon rayon coefficient of friction was the smallest µd = 0.36 ± 0.10; (4) no significant difference between the coefficients of friction determined with the imposed displacement method and the beginning slip method was observed. We view the imposed displacement technique as having an advantage as compared with the beginning slip method, which is more cumbersome (e.g., dropped object should be protected from impacts) and prone to subjective errors owing to the uncertainty in determining the instance of the slip initiation (i.e., impeding sliding).