Biological Cybernetics

, Volume 107, Issue 1, pp 25–37 | Cite as

Self-organization of reflexive behavior from spontaneous motor activity

  • Hugo Gravato MarquesEmail author
  • Farhan Imtiaz
  • Fumiya Iida
  • Rolf Pfeifer
Original Paper


In mammals, the development of reflexes is often regarded as an innate process. However, recent findings show that fetuses are endowed with favorable conditions for ontogenetic development. In this article, we hypothesize that the circuitry of at least some mammalian reflexes can be self-organized from the sensory and motor interactions brought forth in a musculoskeletal system. We focus mainly on three reflexes: the myotatic reflex, the reciprocal inhibition reflex, and the reverse myotatic reflex. To test our hypothesis, we conducted a set of experiments on a simulated musculoskeletal system using pairs of agonist and antagonist muscles. The reflex connectivity is obtained by producing spontaneous motor activity in each muscle and by correlating the resulting sensor and motor signals. Our results show that, under biologically plausible conditions, the reflex circuitry thus obtained is consistent with that identified in relation to the analogous mammalian reflexes. In addition, they show that the reflex connectivity obtained depends on the morphology of the musculoskeletal system as well as on the environment that it is embedded in.


Self-organization Spinal reflexes Spinal control Motor control Ontogenetic development 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hugo Gravato Marques
    • 1
    Email author
  • Farhan Imtiaz
    • 1
  • Fumiya Iida
    • 1
  • Rolf Pfeifer
    • 2
  1. 1.ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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