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J Neurophysiol. 2009 Jun;101(6):3158-68. doi: 10.1152/jn.91336.2008. Epub 2009 Apr 8.

Effects of human arm impedance on dynamics learning and generalization.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1B1.


Previous studies have demonstrated anisotropic patterns of hand impedance under static conditions and during movement. Here we show that the pattern of kinematic error observed in studies of dynamics learning is associated with this anisotropic impedance pattern. We also show that the magnitude of kinematic error associated with this anisotropy dictates the amount of motor learning and, consequently, the extent to which dynamics learning generalizes. Subjects were trained to reach to visual targets while holding a robotic device that applied forces during movement. On infrequent trials, the load was removed and the resulting kinematic error was measured. We found a strong correlation between the pattern of kinematic error and the anisotropic pattern of hand stiffness. In a second experiment subjects were trained under force-field conditions to move in two directions: one in which the dynamic perturbation was in the direction of maximum arm impedance and the associated kinematic error was low and another in which the perturbation was in the direction of low impedance where kinematic error was high. Generalization of learning was assessed in a reference direction that lay intermediate to the two training directions. We found that transfer of learning was greater when training occurred in the direction associated with the larger kinematic error. This suggests that the anisotropic patterns of impedance and kinematic error determine the magnitude of dynamics learning and the extent to which it generalizes.

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