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Gregor Schöner and John P. Scholz

An important aspect of the study of multi-degree-of-freedom motor control is the analysis of high-dimensional variance data. Through the “uncontrolled manifold” (UCM) approach the structure in such data can be discovered and interpreted. The covariation by randomization (CR) approach provides nonlinear and potentially multi-dimensional measures of covariance. We critically examine these two approaches and compare them relative to the three fundamental issues of choice of variables, choice of model, and adoption of either a geometrical or a correlational view of variance. The UCM approach is a geometrical approach that seeks to discover the structure of variance in multi-degree-of-freedom task spaces in which all degrees of freedom have a common metric. The structure of variance in that space is interpreted in terms of its meaning for task variables. The CR approach seeks to uncover correlations between interpretable elemental variables. It requires a defined and common metric in the space of task variables, but not the elemental variables. Although the CR approach is better suited for systems with strong nonlinearities, variance structure that is not caused by correlation but by different amounts of variance in the different elemental variables is undetected by this approach.

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Yaweng Tseng, John P. Scholz, and Gregor Schöner

This study used the uncontrolled manifold (UCM) approach to study joint coordination underlying the control of task-related variables important for success at reaching and pointing to targets. More combinations of joint motions are available to the control system to achieve task success than are strictly necessary. How this abundance of motor solutions is managed by the nervous system and whether and how the availability of visual information affects the solution to joint coordination was investigated in this study. The variability of joint angle combinations was partitioned into 2 components with respect to control of either the hand's path or the path of the arm's center of mass (CM). The goal-equivalent variability (GEV) component represents trial-to-trial fluctuations of the joint configuration consistent with a stable value of the hand or CM path. The other component, non-goal-equivalent variability (NGEV), led to deviations away from the desired hand or CM path. We hypothesized a style of control in which the NGEV component is selectively restricted while allowing a range of goal-equivalent joint combinations to be used to achieve stability of the hand and CM paths. Twelve healthy right-handed subjects reached across their body to the center of a circular target with both the right and left arms and with their eyes open or closed on different trials. When repeating the task with the same arm under identical task conditions, subjects used a range of goal-equivalent joint configurations to control the entire trajectory of both the hand's and the arm's CM motion, as well as the terminal position of the pointer-tip. Overall joint configuration variability was consistently larger in the middle of the movement, near the time of peak velocity. The style of joint coordination was qualitatively similar regardless of the arm used to point or the visual condition. Quantitative differences in the structure of joint coordination were present for the non-dominant arm, however, when pointing in the absence of vision of the hand and target. The results of this study suggest that the nervous system uses a control strategy that provides for a range of goal-equivalent, rather than unique, joint combinations to stabilize the values of important task-related variables, while selectively restricting joint configurations that change these values. The possible advantage of this style of control is discussed. Absence of vision during reaching affected joint coordination only quantitatively and only for the less skilled left arm, suggesting that the role of visual information may be greater when organizing the motor components of this arm.

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Mark L. Latash, John P. Scholz, and Gregor Schöner

Driven by recent empirical studies, we offer a new understanding of the degrees of freedom problem, and propose a refined concept of synergy as a neural organization that ensures a one-to-many mapping of variables providing for both stability of important performance variables and flexibility of motor patterns to deal with possible perturbations and/or secondary tasks. Empirical evidence is reviewed, including a discussion of the operationalization of stability/flexibility through the method of the uncontrolled manifold. We show how this concept establishes links between the various accounts for how movement is organized in redundant effector systems.

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Britta Grimme, Susanne Fuchs, Pascal Perrier, and Gregor Schöner

This paper presents a comparative conceptual review of speech and limb motor control. Speech is essentially cognitive in nature and constrained by the rules of language, while limb movement is often oriented to physical objects. We discuss the issue of intrinsic vs. extrinsic variables underlying the representations of motor goals as well as whether motor goals specify terminal postures or entire trajectories. Timing and coordination is recognized as an area of strong interchange between the two domains. Although coordination among different motor acts within a sequence and coarticulation are central to speech motor control, they have received only limited attention in manipulatory movements. The biomechanics of speech production is characterized by the presence of soft tissue, a variable number of degrees of freedom, and the challenges of high rates of production, while limb movements deal more typically with inertial constraints from manipulated objects. This comparative review thus leads us to identify many strands of thinking that are shared across the two domains, but also points us to issues on which approaches in the two domains differ. We conclude that conceptual interchange between the fields of limb and speech motor control has been useful in the past and promises continued benefit.

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Geetanjali Gera, Sandra Freitas, Mark Latash, Katherine Monahan, Gregor Schöner, and John Scholz

This study investigated the use of motor abundance during the transport and placing of objects that required either precise or minimal orientation to the target. Analyses across repetitions of the structure of joint configuration variance relative to the position and orientation constraints were performed using the Uncontrolled Manifold (UCM) approach. Results indicated that the orientation constraint did not affect stability of the hand’s spatial path. Orientation was weakly stabilized during the late transport phase independent of the orientation constraint, indicating no default synergy stabilizing orientation. Stabilization of orientation for conditions most requiring it for successful insertion of the object was present primarily during the adjustment phase. The results support the hypothesis that a major advantage of a control scheme that utilizes motor abundance is the ability to resolve multiple task constraints simultaneously without undue interference among them.