Bernstein's theory of movement behavior: historical development and contemporary relevance

J Mot Behav. 2000 Mar;32(1):57-71. doi: 10.1080/00222890009601360.


In present-day movement science, N. A. Bernstein's formulation of the problems of motor control is often taken as the starting point. The reliance on Bernstein has not brought agreement among his followers, however. In this article, the authors pose the following question: Does the disagreement arise from the structure of his work itself or from incomplete exploitation of his thinking? By using, inter alia, Bernstein's 24 English and German articles, the authors present an analysis of the development of Bernstein's theory of movement behavior, against the backdrop of the scientific progress in the Soviet Union in Bernstein's time and the clashes between Soviet politics and science. Bernstein addressed in his early articles the measurement and biomechanical analysis of movements. His experimental data soon indicated the need for a new understanding of the organization of movements, which he formulated in terms of coordination. Because of political problems, his work was interrupted; but after being "rehabilitated" and again allowed to work, Bernstein aimed to explain how animals find and optimize the solutions to motor problems. The structure of the theory that ensued was comprehensive exactly by virtue of his repeatedly shifting focus between the different aspects of the organization of movement: More important than the answers he gave were the questions he asked. Moreover, the way he approached those questions may help scientists solve pressing problems in present-day movement science.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Physiology / history*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology
  • Systems Theory*
  • USSR

Personal name as subject

  • N Bernstein