Document Type

Article

Journal/Book Title/Conference

PLoS Computational Biology

Volume

4

Publisher

Public Library of Science

Publication Date

4-25-2008

First Page

1

Last Page

8

DOI

10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000061

Abstract

The differentiation of discrete and continuous movement is one of the pillars of motor behavior classification. Discrete movements have a definite beginning and end, whereas continuous movements do not have such discriminable end points. In the past decade there has been vigorous debate whether this classification implies different control processes. This debate up until the present has been empirically based. Here, we present an unambiguous non-empirical classification based on theorems in dynamical system theory that sets discrete and continuous movements apart. Through computational simulations of representative modes of each class and topological analysis of the flow in state space, we show that distinct control mechanisms underwrite discrete and fast rhythmic movements. In particular, we demonstrate that discrete movements require a time keeper while fast rhythmic movements do not. We validate our computational findings experimentally using a behavioral paradigm in which human participants performed finger flexion-extension movements at various movement paces and under different instructions. Our results demonstrate that the human motor system employs different timing control mechanisms (presumably via differential recruitment of neural subsystems) to accomplish varying behavioral functions such as speed constraints.

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