Strategies for the control of voluntary movements with one mechanical degree of freedom

Gerald L. Gottlieb, Daniel M. Corcos, Gyan C. Agarwal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

269 Scopus citations


A theory is presented to explain how accurate, single-joint movements are controlled. The theory applies to movements across different distances, with different inertial loads, toward targets of different widths over a wide range of experimentally manipulated velocities. The theory is based on three propositions. (1) Movements are planned according to “strategies” of which there are at least two: a speed-insensitive (SI) and a speed-sensitive (SS) one. (2) These strategies can be equated with sets of rules for performing diverse movement tasks. The choice between SI and SS depends on whether movement speed and/or movement time (and hence appropriate muscle forces) must be constrained to meet task requirements. (3) The electromyogram can be interpreted as a low-pass filtered version of the controlling signal to the motoneuron pools. This controlling signal can be modelled as a rectangular excitation pulse in which modulation occurs in either pulse amplitude or pulse width. Movements to different distances and with loads are controlled by the SI strategy, which modulates pulse width. Movements in which speed must be explicitly regulated are controlled by the SS strategy, which modulates pulse amplitude. The distinction between the two movement strategies reconciles many apparent conflicts in the motor control literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-210
Number of pages22
JournalBehavioral and Brain Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1989


  • electromyogram
  • models
  • motor control
  • movement strategies
  • muscle
  • neural control
  • voluntary movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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