The influence of predicted arm biomechanics on decision making

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jun;105(6):3022-33. doi: 10.1152/jn.00975.2010. Epub 2011 Mar 30.


There is considerable debate on the extent to which biomechanical properties of movements are taken into account before and during voluntary movements. For example, while several models have described reach planning as primarily kinematic, some studies have suggested that implicit knowledge about biomechanics may also exert some influence on the planning of reaching movements. Here, we investigated whether decisions about reaching movements are influenced by biomechanical factors and whether these factors are taken into account before movement onset. To this end, we designed an experimental paradigm in which humans made free choices between two potential reaching movements where the options varied in path distance as well as biomechanical factors related to movement energy and stability. Our results suggest that the biomechanical properties of potential actions strongly influence the selection between them. In particular, in our task, subjects preferred movements whose final trajectory was better aligned with the major axis of the arm's mobility ellipse, even when the launching properties were very similar. This reveals that the nervous system can predict biomechanical properties of potential actions before movement onset and that these predictions, in addition to purely abstract criteria, may influence the decision-making process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Torque