Journal of Neurophysiology

The role of intrinsic factors in control of arm movement direction: implications from directional preferences

Natalia Dounskaia, Jacob A. Goble, Wanyue Wang


The role of extrinsic and intrinsic factors in control of arm movement direction remains under debate. We addressed this question by investigating preferences in selection of movement direction and whether factors causing these preferences have extrinsic or intrinsic nature. An unconstrained free-stroke drawing task was used during which participants produced straight strokes on a horizontal table, choosing the direction and the beginning and end of each stroke arbitrarily. The variation of the initial arm postures across strokes provided a possibility to distinguish between the extrinsic and intrinsic origins of directional biases. Although participants were encouraged to produce strokes equally in all directions, each participant demonstrated preferences for some directions over the others. However, the preferred directions were not consistent across participants, suggesting no directional preferences in extrinsic space. Consistent biases toward certain directions were revealed in intrinsic space representing initial arm postures. Factors contributing to the revealed preferences were analyzed within the optimal control framework. The major bias was explained by a tendency predicted by the leading joint hypothesis (LJH) to minimize active interference with interaction torque generated by shoulder motion at the elbow. Some minor biases may represent movements of minimal inertial resistance or maximal kinematic manipulability. These results support a crucial role of intrinsic factors in control of the movement direction of the arm. Based on the LJH interpretation of the major bias, we hypothesize that the dominant tendency was to minimize neural effort for control of arm intersegmental dynamics. Possible organization of neural processes underlying optimal selection of movement direction is discussed.

  • arm movements
  • optimal control
  • multijoint
  • movement planning
  • intersegmental dynamics
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