Movements that are both variable and optimal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


This brief review addresses two major aspects of the neural control of multi-element systems. First, the principle of abundance suggests that the central nervous system unites elements into synergies (co-variation of elemental variables across trials quantified within the framework of the uncontrolled manifold hypothesis) that stabilize important performance variables. Second, a novel method, analytical inverse optimization, has been introduced to compute cost functions that define averaged across trials involvement of individual elements over a range of values of task-specific performance variables. The two aspects reflect two features of motor coordination: (1) using variable solutions that allow performing secondary tasks and stabilizing performance variables; and (2) selecting combinations of elemental variables that follow an optimization principle. We suggest that the conflict between the two approaches (a single solution vs. families of solutions) is apparent, not real. Natural motor variability may be due to using the same cost function across slightly different initial states; on the other hand, there may be variability in the cost function itself leading to variable solutions that are all optimal with respect to slightly different cost functions. The analysis of motor synergies has revealed specific changes associated with atypical development, healthy aging, neurological disorders, and practice. These have allowed formulating hypotheses on the neurophysiological mechanisms involved in the synergic control of actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-13
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Human Kinetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Physiology (medical)


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