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Mark L. Latash and Irina L. Mikaelian

We explored the relations between task difficulty and speech time in picture description tasks. Six native speakers of Mandarin Chinese (CH group) and six native speakers or Indo-European languages (IE group) produced quick and accurate verbal descriptions of pictures in a self-paced manner. The pictures always involved two objects, a plate and one of the three objects (a stick, a fork, or a knife) located and oriented differently with respect to the plate in different trials. An index of difficulty was assigned to each picture. CH group showed lower reaction time and much lower speech time. Speech time scaled linearly with the log-transformed index of difficulty in all subjects. The results suggest generality of Fitts’ law for movement and speech tasks, and possibly for other cognitive tasks as well. The differences between the CH and IE groups may be due to specific task features, differences in the grammatical rules of CH and IE languages, and possible use of tone for information transmission.

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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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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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Daniel M. Corcos and Mark L. Latash

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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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Mark L. Latash, Fan Gao and Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky

The method of multidimensional scaling was applied to matrices of finger interaction (IFM) computed for individual participants for finger force production tasks. When IFMs for young controls, elderly, and persons with Down syndrome were pooled, only two dimensions described interpersonal differences; these were related to total force and to the total amount of enslaving. When IFMs for each group were analyzed separately, subpopulation-specific dimensions were found. Potentially, this analysis can be applied to discover meaningful dimensions that reflect differences in indices of finger interaction across and within subpopulations which differ in their apparent ability to use the hand. It may also be useful for tracking changes in finger interaction that occur in the process of specialized training or motor rehabilitation.

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Joel R. Martin, Mark L. Latash and Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky

This study investigated the effects of modifying contact finger forces in one direction—normal or tangential—on the entire set of the contact forces, while statically holding an object. Subjects grasped a handle instrumented with finger force-moment sensors, maintained it at rest in the air, and then slowly: (1) increased the grasping force, (2) tried to spread fingers apart, and (3) tried to squeeze fingers together. Analysis was mostly performed at the virtual finger (VF) level (the VF is an imaginable finger that generates the same force and moment as the four fingers combined). For all three tasks there were statistically significant changes in the VF normal and tangential forces. For finger spreading/squeezing the tangential force neutral point was located between the index and middle fingers. We conclude that the internal forces are regulated as a whole, including adjustments in both normal and tangential force, instead of only a subset of forces (normal or tangential). The effects of such factors as EFFORT and TORQUE were additive; their interaction was not statistically significant, thus supporting the principle of superposition in human prehension.

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Tarkeshwar Singh, Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky and Mark L. Latash

The effects of muscle fatigue on the stability of precision grasps are not well known. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the effects of exercise-induced fatigue of a digit on prehension synergies in a static precision grasp. One group of participants performed the fatiguing exercise using the thumb (group-thumb) and the second group performed the exercise using the index finger (group-index). Grasp force and load-resisting force-stabilizing synergies were weaker during fatigue for group-thumb and showed no significant change for group-index. These results indicate that fatiguing the thumb compromises the stability of the precision grasp more than when the index finger is fatigued. Our results support the idea of hierarchical organization of prehension control. We proffer an explanation of our results based on two control constructs: a) Principle of superposition. This principle states that prehension can be viewed as a superposition of two independent processes controlling the slip and the tilt of the object respectively; and b) The referent configuration hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, the neural control of actions is associated with defining a set of referent values for task-related coordinates (given an external force field) defined as the referent configuration.