Learning a pointing task with a kinematically redundant limb: Emerging synergies and patterns of final position variability

Slobodan Jaric, Mark L. Latash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The study tested a hypothesis that practice of arm pointing movement can lead to a reorganization of the joint coordination reflected in the emergence of several synergies based on the same set of joints. In particular, involvement of the wrist may represent a choice by the central nervous system and not be driven by the typical "freezing-to-freeing" sequence. The effects of practice on the kinematic patterns and variability of a "fast and accurate" pointing movement using a pointer were studied. An obstacle was placed between the initial position and the target to encourage a curvilinear trajectory and larger wrist involvement. Practice led to a decrease in variability indices accompanied by an increase in movement speed of the endpoint and of the elbow and the shoulder, but not of the wrist joint. Five out of six subjects decreased the peak-to-peak amplitude of wrist motion. Before practice, the variability along the line connecting the endpoint to the shoulder (extent) was similar to that in the direction orthogonal to this line. After practice, variability was reduced along the extent, but not along the orthogonal direction perpendicular to this line. Prior to practice, indices of variability of the endpoint were lower than those of the marker placed over the wrist; after practice, the endpoint showed higher variability indices than the wrist. We interpret the data as consequences of the emergence of two synergies: (a) Pointing with a non-redundant set of the elbow and shoulder joints; and (b) keeping wrist position constant. The former synergy is based on a structural unit involving the elbow and the shoulder, while the latter is based on a structural SRunit that includes all the major arm joints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-838
Number of pages20
JournalHuman Movement Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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