Scaling of the metrics of visually-guided arm movements during motor learning in primates

C. L. Ojakangas, T. J. Ebner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Hand trajectory, tangential velocity and acceleration, time and distance until peak velocity and reaction time were analyzed during the process of learning a skilled, visually-guided arm movement. Primates were trained to move a cursor with a manipulandum from a start box to target boxes displayed on a horizontal video screen during control conditions and when the relationship (gain) between the cursor and manipulandum was altered. The animals adapted to the altered feedback over 100-200 trials. A subsequent testing phase with randomly interspersed trials using the control gain demonstrated that the animals had modified their movements appropriately for the novel gain. Examination of the kinematics revealed that in adapting to a novel gain, primates scaled movement amplitude, tangential velocity, acceleration, and duration appropriately for the distance the hand needed to travel. Yet time to peak velocity was kept constant. Reaction time also remained unchanged for three of the four animals. Movements were performed in two phases, the first from movement onset to peak velocity and the second from peak velocity until the end of the movement. During the first phase the shape of the trajectory and velocity profile were stereotypic and without evidence of any corrections, consistent with this phase being essentially open loop. However, corrections occurred in the second phase and we propose visual feedback was used to correct for the difference in hand/cursor position. Learning appeared to involve utilizing the errors from previous trials to modify the early feedforward phase of subsequent trials. Peak tangential velocity, total movement duration and distance reached at peak tangential velocity all scaled linearly with the total movement distance required at each gain. Based on regression analyses, for none of these variables were the changes in learning completely adequate to compensate for total distance required. However, distance to peak velocity scaled with peak velocity in relation to the control gain. The results show that non-human primates adopt a consistent strategy when learning to scale a multi-joint movement. The metrics of the movement scaled yet the time to peak velocity remained constant, suggesting independent control of time and amplitude. Keeping time to peak velocity constant as well as the scaling of peak velocity with distance to peak velocity are viewed as ways to simplify the learning process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-323
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1991


  • Arm movements
  • Kinematics
  • Motor learning
  • Primates
  • Strategy


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