Changes were studied in neuromotor control that were evoked by constraining the motion of the elbow joint during planar, supported movements of the dominant arm in eight normal human subjects. Electromyograph (EMG) recordings from shoulder and arm muscles were used to determine whether the normal multijoint muscle activity patterns associated with reaching to a visual target were modified when the movement was reduced to a single-joint task, by pinning the elbow to a particular location in the planar work space. Three blocks of 150 movements each were used in the experiments. Subjects were presented with the unconstrained task in the first and third blocks with an intervening block of constrained trials. Kinematic, dynamic, and EMG measures of performance were compared across blocks. The imposition of the pin constraint caused predictable changes in kinematic performance, in that near-linear motions of the hand became curved. This was followed by changes in limb dynamic performance at the elbow. However, changes in EMG activity at the shoulder lagged the kinematic changes substantially (by about 15 trials). The gradual character of the changes in EMG timing does not support a primary role for segmental reflex action in mediating the transition between multijoint and single-joint control strategies. Furthermore, the scope and magnitude of these changes argues against the notion that human motor performance is driven by the optimization of muscle- or joint-related criteria alone. The findings are best described as reflecting the actions of a feedforward adaptive controller that has properties that are modified progressively according to the environmental state.
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