Systematic error in the organization of physical action

C. B. Walter, S. P. Swinnen, Natalia Dounskaia, H. Van Langendonk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Current views of the control of complex, purposeful movements acknowledge that organizational processes must reconcile multiple concerns. The central priority is of course accomplishing the actor's goal. But in specifying the manner in which this occurs, the action plan must accommodate such factors as the interaction of mechanical forces associated with the motion of a multilinked system (classical mechanics) and, in many cases, intrinsic bias toward preferred movement patterns, characterized by so-called "coordination dynamics." The most familiar example of the latter is the symmetry constraint, where spatial trajectories and/or temporal landmarks (e.g., reversal points) of concurrently-moving body segments (limbs, digits, etc.) exhibit mutual attraction. The natural coordination tendencies that emerge through these constraints can facilitate or hinder motor control, depending on the degree of congruency with the desired movement pattern. Motor control theorists have long recognized the role of classical mechanics in theories of movement organization, but an appreciation of the importance of intrinsic interlimb bias has been gained only recently. Although detailed descriptions of temporal coordination dynamics have been provided, systematic attempts to identify additional salient dimensions of interlimb constraint have been lacking. We develop and implement here a novel method for examining this problem by exploiting two robust principles of psychomotor behavior, the symmetry constraint and the Two-Thirds Power Law. Empirical evidence is provided that the relative spatial patterns of concurrently moving limbs are naturally constrained in much the same manner as previously identified temporal constraints and, further, that apparent velocity interference is an indirect, secondary consequence of primary spatial assimilation. The theoretical implications of spatial interference are elaborated with respect to movement organization and motor learning. The need to carefully consider the appropriate dimensions with which to characterize coordination dynamics is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-422
Number of pages30
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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