Different Forms of Referent Control

  • Anatol G. Feldman


In this chapter, I will introduce the basic neurophysiological rule (BNR) to extend the explanation of the physiological origin of referent variables R, λ, and C already described for the single joint level to more global forms of referent control. These forms can be used to guide multi-muscle and multi-joint actions. One such a form—the referent arm configuration—has already been introduced in Chap.  3 to suggest that all muscles of the arm are controlled as a coherent unit. This notion is generalized to all muscles of the body by defining the referent body configuration. The introduction of this form of referent control further emphasizes that neural control levels are released from the necessity to decide which and how muscles should be activated to perform a motor action. Since the time when the concept of referent body configuration has been introduced (Feldman and Levin 1995; Feldman et al. 1998a; Lestienne et al. 2000) it has been tested and successfully applied to several human actions, including reaching, locomotion, jumping, sit-to-stand movements, dancing, and hammering in humans, and to head movements in monkeys.


Referent body configuration Referent trajectory Equilibrium Motionless actions Reaching Sit-to-stand movement Jumps Locomotion Synergy Action optimality 

Supplementary material

Animation 5.1

Movements from sitting to full position are shown. Blue and green figures show the referent and emergent actual body configurations, respectively. Animations are reproduced with permission from Feldman et al. (2007). Copyright 2007 Elsevier Science (AVI 866 kb)

301766_1_En_5_MOESM2_ESM.avi (356 kb)
Animation 5.2 Movements from sitting to semi-standing position are shown. Blue and green figures show the referent and emergent actual body configurations, respectively. Animations are reproduced with permission from Feldman et al. (2007). Copyright 2007 Elsevier Science (AVI 976 kb)


  1. Alstermark B, Isa T (2012) Circuits for skilled reaching and grasping. Annu Rev Neurosci 35:559–578PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ambike S, Paclet F, Zatsiorsky VM, Latash ML (2014) Factors affecting grip force: anatomy, mechanics, and referent configurations. Exp Brain Res 232(4):1219–1231PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archambault PS, Mihaltchev P, Levin MF, Feldman AG (2005) Basic elements of arm postural control analyzed by unloading. Exp Brain Res 164(2):225–241PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernstein NA (1967) The co-ordination and regulation of movements. Pergamon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  5. Feldman AG, Levin MF (1995) The origin and use of positional frames of reference in motor control. Behav Brain Sci 18(4):723–744CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Feldman AG, Orlovsky GN (1972) The influence of different descending systems on the tonic stretch reflex in the cat. Exp Neurol 37(3):481–494PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Feldman AG, Archambault P, Levin MF, Ma S, Mitnitski A (1997) Multi-muscle control in hammering and pointing movements: the referent body configuration. Soc Neurosci Abstr 23(1-2)Google Scholar
  8. Feldman AG, Goussev V, Sangole A, Levin MF (2007) Threshold position control and the principle of minimal interaction in motor actions. In: Cisek P, Drew T, Kalaska J (eds) Computational neuroscience: theoretical insights into brain function: theoretical insights into brain function, vol 165, Progress in brain research., pp 267–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Feldman AG, Krasovsky T, Baniña MC, Lamontagne A, Levin MF (2011) Changes in the referent body location and configuration may underlie human gait, as confirmed by findings of multi-muscle activity minimizations and phase resetting. Exp Brain Res 210(1):91–115PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Flanagan JR, Ostry DJ, Feldman AG (1993) Control of trajectory modifications in target-directed reaching. J Mot Behav 25(3):140–152PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Foisy M, Feldman AG (2006) Threshold control of arm posture and movement adaptation to load. Exp Brain Res 175(4):726–744PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fujimoto M, Chou LS (2012) Dynamic balance control during sit-to-stand movement: An examination with the center of mass acceleration. J Biomech 45(3):543–548PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gelfand IM, Tsetlin ML (1971) Some methods of controlling complex system. In: Gelfand IM, Gurfinkel VS, Fomin SV, Tsetlin ML (eds) Models of structural-functional organization of certain biological systems. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 329–345Google Scholar
  14. Georgopoulos AP (1996) On the translation of directional motor cortical commands to activation of muscles via spinal interneuronal systems. Cogn Brain Res 3(2):151–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Georgopoulos AP, Kalaska JF, Caminiti R, Massey JT (1982) On the relations between the direction of two-dimensional arm movements and cell discharge in primate motor cortex. J Neurosci 2(11):1527–1537PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Georgopoulos AP, Pellizzer G, Poliakov AV, Schieber MH (1999) Neural coding of finger and wrist movements. J Comput Neurosci 6(3):279–288PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Georgopoulos AP, Merchant H, Naselaris T, Amirikian B (2007) Mapping of the preferred direction in the motor cortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(26):11068–11072PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ghafouri M, Feldman AG (2001) The timing of control signals underlying fast point-to-point arm movements. Exp Brain Res 137(3–4):411–423PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Hart CB, Giszter SF (2010) A neural basis for motor primitives in the spinal cord. J Neurosci 30(4):1322–1336PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hirschfeld H, Thorsteinsdottir M, Olsson E (1999) Coordinated ground forces exerted by buttocks and feet are adequately programmed for weight transfer during sit-to-stand. J Neurophysiol 82(6):3021–3029PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Kugler PN, Kelso JAS, Turvey MT (1980) On the concept of coordinative structures as dissipative structures: I. Theoretical lines of convergence. In: Stelmach GE, Requin J (eds) Tutorials in motor behavior. North-Holland, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  22. Lashley KS (1951) The problem of serial order in behavior. In: Jeffress LA (ed) Cerebral mechanisms in behavior: the Hixon symposium. Wiley, Oxford, England, pp 112–146Google Scholar
  23. Latash ML (2008) Synergy. Oxford University Press, New York, NYCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Latash ML, Scholz JP, Schoner G (2007) Toward a new theory of motor synergies. Mot Control 11:276–308Google Scholar
  25. Lepelley MC, Thullier F, Koral J, Lestienne FG (2006) Muscle coordination in complex movements during Jeté in skilled ballet dancers. Exp Brain Res 175(2):321–331PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lestienne FG, Thullier F, Archambault P, Levin MF, Feldman AG (2000) Multi-muscle control of head movements in monkeys: the referent configuration hypothesis. Neurosci Lett 283(1):65–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Matthews PBC (1959) A study of certain factors influencing the stretch reflex of the decerebrated cat. J Physiol 147(3):547–564PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nazari MA, Perrier P, Payan Y (2013) The distributed lambda (λ) model (DLM): a 3-D finite-element muscle model based on Feldman’s λ model; Assessment of orofacial gestures. J Speech Lang Hear Res 56(6):S1909–S1923PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nichols TR (1994) A biomechanical perspective on spinal mechanisms of coordinated muscular action: an architecture principle. Acta Anat (Basel) 151(1):1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pilon JF, De Serres SJ, Feldman AG (2007) Threshold position control of arm movement with anticipatory increase in grip force. Exp Brain Res 181(1):49–67PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rancourt D, Hogan N (2001) Dynamics of pushing. J Mot Behav 33(4):351–362PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Raptis HA, Burtet L, Forget R, Feldman AG (2010) Control of wrist position and muscle relaxation by shifting spatial frames of reference for motoneuronal recruitment: possible involvement of corticospinal pathways. J Physiol 588(9):1551–1570PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rizzolatti G, Craighero L (2004) The mirror-neuron system. Annu Rev Neurosci 27:169–192PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rosenbaum DA, Loukopoulos LD, Meulenbroek RG, Vaughan J, Engelbrecht SE (1995) Planning reaches by evaluating stored postures. Psychol Rev 102(1):28–67PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sasagawa S, Ushiyama J, Masani K, Kouzaki M, Kanehisa H (2009) Balance control under different passive contributions of the ankle extensors: quiet standing on inclined surfaces. Exp Brain Res 196(4):537–544PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Scholz JP, Schöner G (1999) The uncontrolled manifold concept: identifying control variables for a functional task. Exp Brain Res 126(3):289–306PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Scott SH, Gribble PL, Graham KM, Cabel DW (2001) Dissociation between hand motion and population vectors from neural activity in motor cortex. Nature 413(6852):161–165PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sergio LE, Hamel-Pâquet C, Kalaska JF (2005) Motor cortex neural correlates of output kinematics and kinetics during isometric-force and arm-reaching tasks. J Neurophysiol 94(4):2353–2378PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. St-Onge N, Feldman AG (2004) Referent configuration of the body: a global factor in the control of multiple skeletal muscles. Exp Brain Res 155(3):291–300PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Todorov E, Jordan MI (2002) Optimal feedback control as a theory of motor coordination. Nat Neurosci 5(11):1226–1235PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Warren WH, Kay BA, Zosh WD, Duchon AP, Sahuc S (2001) Optic flow is used to control human walking. Nat Neurosci 4(2):213–216PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Weeks DL, Aubert MP, Feldman AG, Levin MF (1996) One-trial adaptation of movement to changes in load. J Neurophysiol 75(1):60–74PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Won J, Hogan N (1995) Stability properties of human reaching movements. Exp Brain Res 107(1):125–136PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yang F, Feldman AG (2010) Reach-to-grasp movement as a minimization process. Exp Brain Res 201(1):75–92PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anatol G. Feldman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of Montreal, Center for Interdisciplinary Reseach in RehabilitationMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations