Role of uncertainty in sensorimotor control

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2002 Aug 29;357(1424):1137-45. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2002.1101.


Neural signals are corrupted by noise and this places limits on information processing. We review the processes involved in goal-directed movements and how neural noise and uncertainty determine aspects of our behaviour. First, noise in sensory signals limits perception. We show that, when localizing our hand, the central nervous system (CNS) integrates visual and proprioceptive information, each with different noise properties, in a way that minimizes the uncertainty in the overall estimate. Second, noise in motor commands leads to inaccurate movements. We review an optimal-control framework, known as 'task optimization in the presence of signal-dependent noise', which assumes that movements are planned so as to minimize the deleterious consequences of noise and thereby minimize inaccuracy. Third, during movement, sensory and motor signals have to be integrated to allow estimation of the body's state. Models are presented that show how these signals are optimally combined. Finally, we review how the CNS deals with noise at the neural and network levels. In all of these processes, the CNS carries out the tasks in such a way that the detrimental effects of noise are minimized. This shows that it is important to consider effects at the neural level in order to understand performance at the behavioural level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Nerve Net
  • Proprioception / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Time Factors