Changes in the structure of motor variability during practicing a bimanual pointing task were investigated using the framework of the uncontrolled manifold (UCM) hypothesis. The subjects performed fast and accurate planar movements with both arms, one moving the pointer and the other moving the target. The UCM hypothesis predicts that joint kinematic variability will be structured to selectively stabilize important task variables. This prediction was tested with respect to selective stabilization of the trajectory of the endpoint of each arm (unimanual control hypotheses) and with respect to selective stabilization of the timecourse of the vectorial distance between the target and the pointer tip (bimanual control hypothesis). Components of joint position variance not affecting and affecting a mean value of a selected variable were computed at each 10% of normalized movement time. The ratio of these two components (RV) served as a quantitative index of selective stabilization. Both unimanual control hypotheses and the bimanual control hypothesis were supported both prior to and after practice. However, the RV values for the bimanual control hypothesis were significantly higher than for either of the unimanual control hypothesis, suggesting that the bimanual synergy was not simply a simultaneous execution of two unimanual synergies. After practice, an improvement in both movement speed and accuracy was accompanied by counterintuitive changes in the structure of kinematic variability. Components of joint position variance affecting and not affecting a mean value of a selected variable decreased, but there was a significantly larger drop in the latter when applied on each of the three selected task variables corresponding to the three control hypotheses. We conclude that the UCM hypothesis allows quantitative assessment of the degree of stabilization of selected performance variables and provides information on changes in the structure of a multijoint synergy that may not be reflected in its overall performance.
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