The human motor control system's response to mechanical perturbation: should it, can it, and does it ensure stability?

J Mot Behav. 2005 Nov;37(6):484-93. doi: 10.3200/JMBR.37.6.484-493.


From among the diverse meanings of stability, the one the author adopts here is that the effects of a perturbation are opposed, and therefore small effects remain small. Except in linear systems, however, instability need not lead to unbounded motion and may actually be desirable when maneuverability is important. Moreover, properties of nerves, muscles, and tendons present serious challenges to stabilization. A review of observations from the motor control literature reveals that responses to perturbations in many common situations assist rather than resist the perturbation and are therefore presumably destabilizing. The observations encompass situations of position maintenance as well as impending or ongoing movement. The author proposes that the motor control system responds to a sudden perturbation by a pattern of muscle activity that mimics an accustomed voluntary movement, oblivious of stability considerations. What prevents runaway motion in the face of short-term instability appears to be voluntary intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Volition*