Arm dominance affects feedforward strategy more than feedback sensitivity during a postural task

Elise H.E. Walker*, Eric J. Perreault

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Handedness is a feature of human motor control that is still not fully understood. Recent work has demonstrated that the dominant and nondominant arm each excel at different behaviors and has proposed that this behavioral asymmetry arises from lateralization in the cerebral cortex: the dominant side specializes in predictive trajectory control, while the nondominant side is specialized for impedance control. Long-latency stretch reflexes are an automatic mechanism for regulating posture and have been shown to contribute to limb impedance. To determine whether long-latency reflexes also contribute to asymmetric motor behavior in the upper limbs, we investigated the effect of arm dominance on stretch reflexes during a postural task that required varying degrees of impedance control. Our results demonstrated slightly but significantly larger reflex responses in the biarticular muscles of the nondominant arm, as would be consistent with increased impedance control. These differences were attributed solely to higher levels of voluntary background activity in the nondominant biarticular muscles, indicating that feedforward strategies for postural stability may differ between arms. Reflex sensitivity, which was defined as the magnitude of the reflex response for matched levels of background activity, was not significantly different between arms for a broad subject population ranging from 23 to 51 years of age. These results indicate that inter-arm differences in feedforward strategies are more influential during posture than differences in feedback sensitivity, in a broad subject population. Interestingly, restricting our analysis to subjects under 40 years of age revealed a small increase in long-latency reflex sensitivity in the nondominant arm relative to the dominant arm. Though our subject numbers were small for this secondary analysis, it suggests that further studies may be required to assess the influence of reflex lateralization throughout development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2001-2011
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 15 2015


  • Arm dominance
  • Asymmetry
  • Lateralization
  • Long latency
  • Posture
  • Reflex
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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