Central representation of time during motor learning

Michael A. Conditt, Ferdinando A. Mussa-Ivaldi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


This study stemmed from the observation that the brain of human as well as nonhuman primates is capable of forming and memorizing remarkably accurate internal representations of the dynamics of the arm. These dynamics establish a functional relation between applied force and ensuing arm motion, a relation that generally is quite complex and nonlinear. Current evidence shows that the motor control system is capable of adapting to perturbing forces that depend on motion variables such as position, velocity, and acceleration. The experiments we report here were aimed at establishing whether or not the motor system also may adapt to forces that depend explicitly on time rather than on motion variables. Surprisingly, the experiments suggest a negative answer. When asked to compensate for a predictable and repeated time-varying pattern Of disturbing forces, subjects learned to counteract the disturbance by producing forces that did not depend on time but on the velocity and the position of the arm. We conclude from this evidence that time and time-dependent dynamics are not explicitly represented within the neural structures that are responsible for motor adaptation. Although our findings are not sufficient to rule out the presence of a timing structure within the central nervous system, they are consistent with other investigations that conspicuously failed to find evidence for such a central clock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11625-11630
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - Sep 28 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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