An Examination of the Generalizability of Motor Costs

Max Berniker*, Megan K. O'Brien, Konrad P. Kording, Alaa A. Ahmed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


Most approaches to understanding human motor control assume that people maximize their rewards while minimizing their motor efforts. This tradeoff between potential rewards and a sense of effort is quantified with a cost function. While the rewards can change across tasks, our sense of effort is assumed to remain constant and characterize how the nervous system organizes motor control. As such, when a proposed cost function compares well with data it is argued to be the underlying cause of a motor behavior, and not simply a fit to the data. Implicit in this proposition is the assumption that this cost function can then predict new motor behaviors. Here we examined this idea and asked whether an inferred cost function in one setting could explain subject's behavior in settings that differed dynamically but had identical rewards. We found that the pattern of behavior observed across settings was similar to our predictions of optimal behavior. However, we could not conclude that this behavior was consistent with a conserved sense of effort. These results suggest that the standard forms for quantifying cost may not be sufficient to accurately examine whether or not human motor behavior abides by optimality principles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53759
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 18 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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