Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 236, Issue 10, pp 2765–2780 | Cite as

Expectation of movement generates contrasting changes in multifinger synergies in young and older adults

  • Mitchell Tillman
  • Satyajit AmbikeEmail author
Research Article


Anticipatory synergy adjustment (ASA) is a feed-forward control mechanism that describes a continuous decrease in the stability of the current motor state beginning about 150 ms prior to a state transition. Recently, we described an associated phenomenon in which the system stability was reduced solely in response to a cue that generates an expectation of a state change, independent of whether the state change actually occurs. Both phenomena are of the same kind (stability reduction), but evoked by distinct antecedent conditions. Since, logically, cuing for movement must occur before the initiation of that movement, we named this new phenomenon ‘Stage-1 ASA’ and rechristened the well-established version ‘Stage-2 ASA’. Here, we used a four-finger, isometric force production task to explore (1) the effect of healthy aging on Stage-1 ASA, and (2) if Stage-1 ASA resulted in a more rapid state change. Young and older adult participants produced 10% of their maximal force when they did not expect to produce any change in the force, and when they expected to change their force in an unknown direction and at an unknown time. In the latter condition, the 10% constant-force phase was followed by a choice reaction time task, in which the participants rapidly changed their force to follow a moving target presented on a computer monitor. Both young and older adults displayed equivalent amount of Stage-1 ASA. This was driven by a 42% reduction in finger-force variability in young adults. In contrast, it was driven by a 38% increase in finger-force variability in older adults. We speculate that the reduction in finger force variability assists the young adults in rapid state changes via two mechanisms: (1) the finger forces occupy a restricted set of states that are optimal for quick state transitions, and (2) lower variability during steady state translates into lower self-motion during state transition. Self-motion is the covariation between finger forces that fails to change the total force. The older adults are unable to adopt this strategy, and the increase in finger-force variability arises from (1) the adoption of an alternative strategy of destabilizing the attractor associated with the current state to facilitate state transitions and (2) the inability to coordinate multiple finger forces. Finally, older adults displayed longer reaction times than young adults, but a clear relation between Stage-1 ASA and consequent behavioral benefit in terms of reduced reaction time remained elusive.


Finger force Isometric Anticipatory synergy adjustment Choice reaction time Manual dexterity 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health and KinesiologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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