We considered a hypothetical two-level hierarchy participating in the control of vertical posture. The framework of the uncontrolled manifold (UCM) hypothesis was used to explore the muscle groupings (M-modes) and multi-M-mode synergies involved in the stabilization of a time profile of the shear force in the anterior-posterior direction. Standing subjects were asked to produce pulses of shear force into a target using visual feedback while trying to minimize the shift of the center of pressure (COP). Principal component analysis applied to integrated muscle activation indices identified three M-modes. The composition of the M-modes was similar across subjects and the two directions of the shear force pulse. It differed from the composition of M-modes described in earlier studies of more natural actions associated with large COP shifts. Further, the trial-to-trial M-mode variance was partitioned into two components: one component that does not affect a particular performance variable (V UCM), and its orthogonal component (VORT). We argued that there is a multi-M-mode synergy stabilizing this particular performance variable if VUCM is higher than VORT. Overall, we found a multi-M-mode synergy stabilizing both shear force and COP coordinate. For the shear force, this synergy was strong for the backward force pulses and nonsignificant for the forward pulses. An opposite result was found for the COP coordinate: the synergy was stronger for the forward force pulses. The study shows that M-mode composition can change in a task-specific way and that two different performance variables can be stabilized using the same set of elemental variables (M-modes). The different dependences of the ΔV indices for the shear force and COP coordinate on the force pulse direction supports applicability of the principle of superposition (separate controllers for different performance variables) to the control of different mechanical variables in postural tasks. The M-mode composition allows a natural mechanical interpretation.
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