, Volume 201, Issue 2, pp 307-322
Date: 23 Oct 2009

Adaptive and phase transition behavior in performance of discrete multi-articular actions by degenerate neurobiological systems

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The identification of attractors is one of the key tasks in studies of neurobiological coordination from a dynamical systems perspective, with a considerable body of literature resulting from this task. However, with regards to typical movement models investigated, the overwhelming majority of actions studied previously belong to the class of continuous, rhythmical movements. In contrast, very few studies have investigated coordination of discrete movements, particularly multi-articular discrete movements. In the present study, we investigated phase transition behavior in a basketball throwing task where participants were instructed to shoot at the basket from different distances. Adopting the ubiquitous scaling paradigm, throwing distance was manipulated as a candidate control parameter. Using a cluster analysis approach, clear phase transitions between different movement patterns were observed in performance of only two of eight participants. The remaining participants used a single movement pattern and varied it according to throwing distance, thereby exhibiting hysteresis effects. Results suggested that, in movement models involving many biomechanical degrees of freedom in degenerate systems, greater movement variation across individuals is available for exploitation. This observation stands in contrast to movement variation typically observed in studies using more constrained bi-manual movement models. This degenerate system behavior provides new insights and poses fresh challenges to the dynamical systems theoretical approach, requiring further research beyond conventional movement models.