Strategy of arm movement control is determined by minimization of neural effort for joint coordination

Natalia Dounskaia, Yury Shimansky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Optimality criteria underlying organization of arm movements are often validated by testing their ability to adequately predict hand trajectories. However, kinematic redundancy of the arm allows production of the same hand trajectory through different joint coordination patterns. We therefore consider movement optimality at the level of joint coordination patterns. A review of studies of multi-joint movement control suggests that a ‘trailing’ pattern of joint control is consistently observed during which a single (‘leading’) joint is rotated actively and interaction torque produced by this joint is the primary contributor to the motion of the other (‘trailing’) joints. A tendency to use the trailing pattern whenever the kinematic redundancy is sufficient and increased utilization of this pattern during skillful movements suggests optimality of the trailing pattern. The goal of this study is to determine the cost function minimization of which predicts the trailing pattern. We show that extensive experimental testing of many known cost functions cannot successfully explain optimality of the trailing pattern. We therefore propose a novel cost function that represents neural effort for joint coordination. That effort is quantified as the cost of neural information processing required for joint coordination. We show that a tendency to reduce this ‘neurocomputational’ cost predicts the trailing pattern and that the theoretically developed predictions fully agree with the experimental findings on control of multi-joint movements. Implications for future research of the suggested interpretation of the trailing joint control pattern and the theory of joint coordination underlying it are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1335-1350
Number of pages16
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Arm movements
  • Control of multi-joint movements
  • Information processing
  • Interaction torque
  • Multi-joint
  • Optimization criterion
  • Redundancy of degrees of freedom

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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