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Age-Related Differences in the Stabilization of Important Task Variables in Reaching Movements

Melanie Krüger, Thomas Eggert, and Andreas Straube

Empirical evidence suggests that the ability to stabilize important task variables of everyday movements by synergistically coordinating redundant degrees of freedom decreases with aging. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether this decrease may be regarded as a characteristic that also applies for the control of multiple task variables. We asked younger and older subjects to repeatedly reach towards and grasp a handle, while joint angle movement of the arm was recorded. The handle constrained final hand position and final hand orientation. Movement variability was analyzed during movement execution by using the uncontrolled manifold method. Results showed that hand orientation was less stabilized in younger than in older subjects. We conclude that aging changes the stability of important task variables. These changes may lead to decreased stability in some task variables, as reported in the literature, but also to increased stability in other task variables.

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Under Threshold Position Control, Peripheral Mechanisms Compensate Efficiently for Small Perturbations of Arm Movements

Lei Zhang, Andreas Straube, and Thomas Eggert

Unexpected small perturbations during reaching movements are normally compensated for automatically. Previous studies of such perturbations observed that the movement trajectory converges back to the preplanned end position. The question remains whether peripheral mechanisms formed by intrinsic muscle properties and stretch reflex are efficient for compensating for such perturbations. Even though this is suggested by a threshold position control model highlighting the role of peripheral mechanisms under central control in movement generation, it is neither developed nor extensively tested for this capability. The present study tests how this model can account for the compensation during single-joint fast reaching. Motor responses to transient, unpredictable, small perturbations at different movement phases were measured and compared with the model predictions. The results show good agreement concerning kinematic and dynamic responses. Simulations with altered mechanical parameters of the model suggest that reflexive responses are well tuned to the intrinsic muscle properties. We conclude that under central control, peripheral mechanisms cope efficiently with small transient perturbations.

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Saccade-Related Potentials During Eye-Hand Coordination: Effects of Hand Movements on Saccade Preparation

Uta Sailer, Florian Güldenpfennig, and Thomas Eggert

This study investigated the effect of hand movements on behavioral and electro-physiological parameters of saccade preparation. While event-related potentials were recorded in 17 subjects, they performed saccades to a visual target either together with a hand movement in the same direction, a hand movement in the opposite direction, a hand movement to a third, independent direction, or without any accompanying hand movements. Saccade latencies increased with any kind of accompanying hand movement. Both saccade and manual latencies were largest when both movements aimed at opposite directions. In contrast, saccade-related potentials indicating preparatory activity were mainly affected by hand movements in the same direction. The data suggest that concomitant hand movements interfere with saccade preparation, particularly when the two movements involve motor preparations that access the same visual stimulus. This indicates that saccade preparation is continually informed about hand movement preparation.