Rethinking Motor Lateralization: Specialized but Complementary Mechanisms for Motor Control of Each Arm

Pratik K. Mutha, Kathleen Y. Haaland, Robert L. Sainburg

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83 Citations (SciVal)


Motor lateralization in humans has primarily been characterized as "handedness", resulting in the view that one arm-hemisphere system is specialized for all aspects of movement while the other is simply a weaker analogue. We have proposed an alternative view that motor lateralization reflects proficiency of each arm for complementary functions that arises from a specialization of each hemisphere for distinct movement control mechanisms. However, before this idea of hemispheric specialization can be accepted, it is necessary to precisely identify these distinct, lateralized mechanisms. Here we show in right-handers that dominant arm movements rely on predictive mechanisms that anticipate and account for the dynamic properties of the arm, while the non-dominant arm optimizes positional stability by specifying impedance around equilibrium positions. In a targeted-reaching paradigm, we covertly and occasionally shifted the hand starting location either orthogonal to or collinear with a particular direction of movement. On trials on which the start positions were shifted orthogonally, we did not notice any strong interlimb differences. However, on trials on which start positions were shifted orthogonally, the dominant arm largely maintained the direction and straightness of its trajectory, while the non-dominant arm deviated towards the previously learned goal position, consistent with the hypothesized control specialization of each arm-hemisphere system. These results bring together two competing theories about mechanisms of movement control, and suggest that they coexist in the brain in different hemispheres. These findings also question the traditional view of handedness, because specialized mechanisms for each arm-hemisphere system were identified within a group of right-handers. It is likely that such hemispheric specialization emerged to accommodate increasing motor complexity during evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere58582
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 5 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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