Reaching while standing in microgravity: a new postural solution to oversimplify movement control

Exp Brain Res. 2012 Jan;216(2):203-15. doi: 10.1007/s00221-011-2918-2. Epub 2011 Dec 8.


Many studies showed that both arm movements and postural control are characterized by strong invariants. Besides, when a movement requires simultaneous control of the hand trajectory and balance maintenance, these two movement components are highly coordinated. It is well known that the focal and postural invariants are individually tightly linked to gravity, much less is known about the role of gravity in their coordination. It is not clear whether the effect of gravity on different movement components is such as to keep a strong movement-posture coordination even in different gravitational conditions or whether gravitational information is necessary for maintaining motor synergism. We thus set out to analyze the movements of eleven standing subjects reaching for a target in front of them beyond arm's length in normal conditions and in microgravity. The results showed that subjects quickly adapted to microgravity and were able to successfully accomplish the task. In contrast to the hand trajectory, the postural strategy was strongly affected by microgravity, so to become incompatible with normo-gravity balance constraints. The distinct effects of gravity on the focal and postural components determined a significant decrease in their reciprocal coordination. This finding suggests that movement-posture coupling is affected by gravity, and thus, it does not represent a unique hardwired and invariant mode of control. Additional kinematic and dynamic analyses suggest that the new motor strategy corresponds to a global oversimplification of movement control, fulfilling the mechanical and sensory constraints of the microgravity environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Hand / physiology
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Joints / physiology
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Weightlessness*