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Learning a throwing task is associated with differential changes in the use of motor abundance

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Abstract

This study sought to characterize changes in the synergy of joint motions related to learning a Frisbee throwing task and, in particular, how the use of abundant solutions to joint coordination changed during the course of learning for successful performance. The latter information was helpful in determining the relative importance of different performance-related variables (PVs) to performance improvement. Following a pre-test, the main experiment consisted of six subjects practicing a Frisbee throw to a laterally-placed target for five days, 150 throws per day, followed by a post-test. A subgroup of three subjects continued to practice for an extended period of extensive practice amounting to 1800–2700 additional throws each, followed by a second post-test. Motor abundance was addressed through the uncontrolled manifold approach (UCM), which was used to partition the variance of joint configurations into two components with respect to relevant PVs, one component leading to a consistent value of the PV across repetitions, and a reflection of motor abundance, and a second component resulting in unstable values of the relevant PV. The method was used to test hypotheses about the relative importance of controlling the PVs that have an impact on successful task performance: movement extent, movement direction, hand path velocity, and the hand’s orientation to the target. In addition, the amount of self-motion, or apparently extraneous joint motion having no effect on the hand’s motion, compared to joint motion that does affect the hand’s motion, was determined. After a week of practice, all subjects showed improvement in terms of targeting accuracy. Hand movement variability also decreased with practice and this was associated with a decrease in overall joint configuration variance. This trend continued to a greater extent in the three subjects who participated in extended practice. Although the component of joint configuration variance that was consistent with a stable value of all PVs was typically substantially higher than variance leading to unstable values of those PVs, both components decreased with practice. However, the decrease in joint configuration variance reflecting motor abundance was less than the other variance component only in relation to control of movement direction and the hand’s orientation to the target. These results indicate that improvement of throwing performance in this experiment was more related to improved stabilization of movement direction and to the hand’s orientation to the target than to movement extent and hand velocity. Nonetheless, the relative values of the two joint variance components were such that the instantaneous value of both hand path velocity and movement extent were stabilized throughout the experiment and showed a consistent compensatory relationship at the time of Frisbee release, despite not changing with practice. Finally, the amount of self-motion increased significantly with practice, possibly reflecting better compensation for perturbations due to the limb’s dynamics. The results are consistent with other studies, suggesting the need to reevaluate Bernstein’s hypothesis of freeing and freezing DOFs with learning.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by NSF grant #IBN-0078127, awarded to Dr. Scholz. The authors wish to thank Tyesha Dwight for her assistance in processing the data.

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Correspondence to J. P. Scholz.

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Yang, JF., Scholz, J.P. Learning a throwing task is associated with differential changes in the use of motor abundance. Exp Brain Res 163, 137–158 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-004-2149-x

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