Motor equivalence expresses the idea that movement components reorganize in the face of perturbations to preserve the value of important performance variables, such as the hand's position in reaching. A formal method is introduced to evaluate this concept quantitatively: changes in joint configuration due to unpredictable elbow perturbation lead to a smaller change in performance variables than expected given the magnitude of joint configuration change. This study investigated whether motor equivalence was present during the entire movement trajectory and how magnitude of motor equivalence was affected by constraints imposed by two different target types. Subjects pointed to spherical and cylindrical targets both with and without an elbow joint perturbation produced by a low- or high-stiffness elastic band. Subjects' view of their arm was blocked in the initial position, and the perturbation condition was randomized to avoid prediction of the perturbation or its magnitude. A modification of the uncontrolled manifold method variance analysis was used to investigate how changes in joint configuration on perturbed vs. nonperturbed trials (joint deviation vector) affected the hand's position or orientation. Evidence for motor equivalence induced by the perturbation was present from the reach onset and increased with the strength of the perturbation after 40% of the reach, becoming more prominent as the reach progressed. Hand orientation was stabilized more strongly by motor equivalent changes in joint configuration than was threedimensional position regardless of the target condition. Results are consistent with a recent model of neural control that allows for flexible patterns of joint coordination while resisting joint configuration deviations in directions that affect salient performance variables. The observations also fit a general scheme of synergic control with referent configurations defined across different levels of the motor hierarchy.
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