When Is Behavioral Data Evidence for a Control Theory? Tau-Coupling Revisited

in Motor Control
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Before an aspect of a movement that is predicted by a control theory can be considered as evidence for that theory, it should be clear that this aspect is not the result of some other property of the movement. We investigate whether this condition is met in studies that claim to provide evidence for the tau-coupling theory. This theory proposes that moving targets are intercepted at a specified goal zone by maintaining a constant ratio between the tau (time to closure) of the gap between the hand and the goal zone and the tau of the gap between the hand and the moving target. In line with the theory, previous research has found a linear relationship between these two decreasing taus during the last part of such a movement. To investigate whether this linear relationship was a side-effect of smooth successful movements, we modeled smooth ballistic hand movements that were independent of the target's movement but led to successful interception. We found that the resulting taus of decreasing gaps were also related linearly. We conclude that this relationship cannot be considered as evidence for the tau-coupling theory.

The authors are with the Department of Neuroscience at Erasmus MC, 3000 DR Rotterdam, the Netherlands. A.-M. Brouwer is now with the Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.

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