Multijoint error compensation mediates unstable object control
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A key feature of skilled object control is the ability to correct performance errors. This process is not straightforward for unstable objects (e.g., inverted pendulum or "stick" balancing) because the mechanics of the object are sensitive to small control errors, which can lead to rapid performance changes. In this study, we have characterized joint recruitment and coordination processes in an unstable object control task. Our objective was to determine whether skill acquisition involves changes in the recruitment of individual joints or distributed error compensation. To address this problem, we monitored stick-balancing performance across four experimental sessions. We confirmed that subjects learned the task by showing an increase in the stability and length of balancing trials across training sessions. We demonstrated that motor learning led to the development of a multijoint error compensation strategy such that after training, subjects preferentially constrained joint angle variance that jeopardized task performance. The selective constraint of destabilizing joint angle variance was an important metric of motor learning. Finally, we performed a combined uncontrolled manifold-permutation analysis to ensure the variance structure was not confounded by differences in the variance of individual joint angles. We showed that reliance on multijoint error compensation increased, whereas individual joint variation (primarily at the wrist joint) decreased systematically with training. We propose a learning mechanism that is based on the accurate estimation of sensory states.
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