Control of movement variability and the regulation of limb impedance.
Lametti DR., Houle G., Ostry DJ.
Humans routinely make movements to targets that have different accuracy requirements in different directions. Examples extend from everyday occurrences such as grasping the handle of a coffee cup to the more refined instance of a surgeon positioning a scalpel. The attainment of accuracy in situations such as these might be related to the nervous system's capacity to regulate the limb's resistance to displacement, or impedance. To test this idea, subjects made movements from random starting locations to targets that had shape-dependent accuracy requirements. We used a robotic device to assess both limb impedance and patterns of movement variability just as the subject reached the target. We show that impedance increases in directions where required accuracy is high. Independent of target shape, patterns of limb stiffness are seen to predict spatial patterns of movement variability. The nervous system is thus seen to modulate limb impedance in entirely predictable environments to aid in the attainment of reaching accuracy.