We used robot-generated perturbations applied during position-holding tasks to explore stability of induced unintentional movements in a multidimensional space of muscle activations. Healthy subjects held the handle of a robot against a constant bias force and were instructed not to interfere with hand movements produced by changes in the external force. Transient force changes were applied leading to handle displacement away from the initial position and then back toward the initial position. Intertrial variance in the space of muscle modes (eigenvectors in the muscle activations space) was quantified within two subspaces, corresponding to unchanged handle coordinate and to changes in the handle coordinate. Most variance was confined to the former subspace in each of the three phases of movement, the initial steady state, the intermediate position, and the final steady state. The same result was found when the changes in muscle activation were analyzed between the initial and final steady states. Changes in the dwell time between the perturbation force application and removal led to different final hand locations undershooting the initial position. The magnitude of the undershot scaled with the dwell time, while the structure of variance in the muscle activation space did not depend on the dwell time. We conclude that stability of the hand coordinate is ensured during both intentional and unintentional actions via similar mechanisms. Relative equifinality in the external space after transient perturbations may be associated with varying states in the redundant space of muscle activations. The results fit a hierarchical scheme for the control of voluntary movements with referent configurations and redundant mapping between the levels of the hierarchy.
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