Equilibrium-Point Control Hypothesis Examined by Measured Arm Stiffness During Multijoint Movement

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Science  05 Apr 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5258, pp. 117-120
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5258.117


For the last 20 years, it has been hypothesized that well-coordinated, multijoint movements are executed without complex computation by the brain, with the use of springlike muscle properties and peripheral neural feedback loops. However, it has been technically and conceptually difficult to examine this “equilibrium-point control” hypothesis directly in physiological or behavioral experiments. A high-performance manipulandum was developed and used here to measure human arm stiffness, the magnitude of which during multijoint movement is important for this hypothesis. Here, the equilibrium-point trajectory was estimated from the measured stiffness, the actual trajectory, and the generated torque. Its velocity profile differed from that of the actual trajectory. These results argue against the hypothesis that the brain sends as a motor command only an equilibrium-point trajectory similar to the actual trajectory.