Recently, the framework of the uncontrolled manifold (UCM) hypothesis has been used to study multi-finger synergies based on analysis of motor variability across large sets of trials. We introduce a similar method of analysis, which can be applied to single trials, and hence may be more relevant to studies of atypical populations. In one experiment, results of across-trials and single-trial UCM analysis were compared for control participants who performed accurate ramp force production trials by pressing with four fingers of the hand. Both types of analysis revealed selective stabilization of total force by co-variations of individual finger forces. The stabilization was more pronounced at higher forces. When the participants purposefully varied the relative involvement of fingers during the ramp, significantly higher UCM effects were observed. However, high-pass filtering of the data at 4 Hz made these results similar to those observed in trials with natural patterns of force production. These observations allow assessment of the contribution of processes at two levels of a hypothetical hierarchical control system to the stabilization of total force. We also applied the single-trial UCM method to re-analyze previously published data from another experiment to study the motor variability in a group of persons with Down syndrome (DS) because these persons have difficulty in motor planning and timing as well as in force stabilization. Results of single-trial UCM analysis demonstrated force stabilization in these persons. The degree of force stabilization improved significantly after three days of practice. The analysis also showed that the total pronation/supination moment generated by the four fingers with respect to the midpoint was stabilized. The degree of moment stabilization did not change with practice. We conclude that the single-trial method of UCM analysis allows the analysis of hypotheses about stabilization of different performance variables by alleged multi-finger synergies in both typical individuals and individuals with DS.
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