The purpose of this study was to examine the relative influence of initial hand location on the direction and extent of planar reaching movements. Subjects performed a horizontal-plane reaching task with the dominant arm supported above a table top by a frictionless air-jet system. A start circle and a target were reflected from a horizontal projection screen onto a horizontally positioned mirror, which blocked the subject's view of the arm. A cursor, representing either actual or virtual finger location, was only displayed between each trial to allow subjects to position the cursor in the start circle. Prior to occasional "probe trials," we changed the start location of the finger relative to the cursor. Subjects reported being unaware of the discrepancy between cursor and finger. Our results indicate that regardless of initial hand location, subjects did not alter the direction of movement. However, movement distance was systematically adjusted in accord with the baseline target position. Thus when the hand start position was perpendicularly displaced relative to the target direction, neither the direction nor the extent of movement varied relative to that of baseline. However, when the hand was displaced along the target direction, either anterior or posterior, movements were made in the same direction as baseline trials but were shortened or lengthened, respectively. This effect was asymmetrical such that movements from anterior displaced positions showed greater distance adjustment than those from posterior displaced positions. Inverse dynamic analysis revealed substantial changes in elbow and shoulder muscle torque strategies for both right/left and anterior/posterior pairs of displacements. In the case of right/left displacements, such changes in muscle torque compensated changes in limb configuration such that movements were made in the same direction and to the same extent as baseline trials. Our results support the hypothesis that movement direction is specified relative to an origin at the current location of the hand. Movement extent, on the other hand, appears to be affected by the workspace learned during baseline movement experience.
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