Unexpected complexity of everyday manual behaviors

Nat Commun. 2020 Jul 16;11(1):3564. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17404-0.


How does the brain control an effector as complex and versatile as the hand? One possibility is that neural control is simplified by limiting the space of hand movements. Indeed, hand kinematics can be largely described within 8 to 10 dimensions. This oft replicated finding has been construed as evidence that hand postures are confined to this subspace. A prediction from this hypothesis is that dimensions outside of this subspace reflect noise. To address this question, we track the hand of human participants as they perform two tasks-grasping and signing in American Sign Language. We apply multiple dimension reduction techniques and replicate the finding that most postural variance falls within a reduced subspace. However, we show that dimensions outside of this subspace are highly structured and task dependent, suggesting they too are under volitional control. We propose that hand control occupies a higher dimensional space than previously considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Volition / physiology
  • Young Adult