Flexible representations of dynamics are used in object manipulation

Curr Biol. 2008 May 20;18(10):763-768. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.04.061.


To manipulate an object skillfully, the brain must learn its dynamics, specifying the mapping between applied force and motion. A fundamental issue in sensorimotor control is whether such dynamics are represented in an extrinsic frame of reference tied to the object or an intrinsic frame of reference linked to the arm. Although previous studies have suggested that objects are represented in arm-centered coordinates [1-6], all of these studies have used objects with unusual and complex dynamics. Thus, it is not known how objects with natural dynamics are represented. Here we show that objects with simple (or familiar) dynamics and those with complex (or unfamiliar) dynamics are represented in object- and arm-centered coordinates, respectively. We also show that objects with simple dynamics are represented with an intermediate coordinate frame when vision of the object is removed. These results indicate that object dynamics can be flexibly represented in different coordinate frames by the brain. We suggest that with experience, the representation of the dynamics of a manipulated object may shift from a coordinate frame tied to the arm toward one that is linked to the object. The additional complexity required to represent dynamics in object-centered coordinates would be economical for familiar objects because such a representation allows object use regardless of the orientation of the object in hand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*