Proprioception encompasses our sense of position and movement of our limbs, as well as the effort with which we engage in voluntary actions. Historically, sense of effort has been linked to centrally generated signals that elicit voluntary movements. We were interested in determining the effect of differences in limb geometry and personal control on sense of effort. In experiment 1, subjects exerted either extension or flexion torques to resist a torque applied by a robot exoskeleton to their reference elbow. They attempted to match this torque by exerting an equal effort torque (in a congruent direction with the reference arm) with their opposite (matching) arm in different limb positions (±15°). Subjects produced greater matching torque when their matching arm exerted effort toward the mirrored position of the reference (e.g., reference/matching arms at 90°/105° elbow flexion) vs. away (e.g., 90°/75° flexion). In experiment 2, a larger angular difference between arms (30°) resulted in a larger discrepancy in matched torques. Furthermore, in both experiments 1 and 2, subjects tended to overestimate the reference arm torque. This motivated a third experiment to determine whether providing more personal control might influence perceived effort and reduce the overestimation of the reference torques that we observed ( experiments 3a and 3b). Overestimation of the matched torques decreased significantly when subjects self-selected the reference torque that they were matching. Collectively, our data suggest that perceived effort between arms can be influenced by signals relating to the relative geometry of the limbs and the personal control of motor output during action. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This work highlights how limb geometry influences our sense of effort during voluntary motor actions. It also suggests that loss of personal control during motor actions leads to an increase in perceived effort.
Keywords: motor control; proprioception; robotics; sense of effort; sensorimotor; sensory feedback.