Previous research has suggested distinct predictive and reactive control mechanisms for bimanual movements compared with unimanual motion. Recent studies have extended these findings by demonstrating that movement corrections during bimanual movements might differ depending on whether or not the task is shared between the arms. We hypothesized that corrective responses during shared bimanual tasks recruit bilateral rapid feedback mechanisms such as reflexes. We tested this hypothesis by perturbing one arm as subjects performed uni- and bimanual movements. Movements were made in a virtual-reality environment in which hand position was displayed as a cursor on a screen. During bimanual motion, we provided cursor feedback either independently for each arm (independent-cursor) or such that one cursor was placed at the average location between the arms (shared-cursor). On random trials, we applied a 40 N force pulse to the right arm 100 ms after movement onset. Our results show that while reflex responses were rapidly elicited in the perturbed arm, electromyographic activity remained close to baseline levels in the unperturbed arm during the independent-cursor trials. In contrast, when the cursor was shared between the arms, reflex responses were reduced in the perturbed arm and were rapidly elicited in the unperturbed arm. Our results thus suggest that when both arms contribute to achieving the task goal, reflex responses are bilaterally elicited in response to unilateral perturbations. These results agree with and extend recent suggestions that bimanual feedback control might be modified depending on task context.
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