We explored the phenomenon of unintentional changes in the apparent stiffness of the human arm produced by transient changes in the external force. The subjects performed a positional task against a constant baseline force and were instructed not to react to changes in the force. A HapticMaster robot produced a smooth force increase (a perturbation) leading to a hand movement, followed by a dwell time. No visible hand drift was observed during the dwell time. After the robot force dropped to its initial baseline value, the hand moved toward the initial position but stopped short of it. Small perturbations were applied at different time intervals along different directions during the dwell time. Arm apparent stiffness distribution in a horizontal plane was approximated with an ellipse. The apparent stiffness magnitude along the main axis of the ellipse showed a non-monotonic increase with dwell time, while the apparent stiffness along the minor axis did not change significantly. We interpreted the early part of the changes in the apparent stiffness as due to peripheral muscle properties. The later part is interpreted as caused by a combination of two processes: a drift in the referent hand coordinate due to the hypothesized back-coupling between the referent and actual hand coordinates and an implicit instruction to keep the hand steady when no changes in robot-generated force took place. The data provide support for the idea of back-coupling between the referent and actual body configurations, which may be an important contributor to stability of motor actions.
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