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Distinct timing mechanisms produce discrete and continuous movements
PLoS Computational Biology
  • Raoul Huys, CNRS and Université de la Méditerranée
  • Breanna E. Studenka, Utah State University
  • Nicole L. Rheaume, Purdue University
  • Howard N. Zelaznik, Purdue University
  • Viktor K. Jirsa, Florida Atlantic University
Document Type
Public Library of Science
Publication Date

The differentiation of discrete and continuous movement is one of the pillars of motor behavior classification. Discrete movements have a definite beginning and end, whereas continuous movements do not have such discriminable end points. In the past decade there has been vigorous debate whether this classification implies different control processes. This debate up until the present has been empirically based. Here, we present an unambiguous non-empirical classification based on theorems in dynamical system theory that sets discrete and continuous movements apart. Through computational simulations of representative modes of each class and topological analysis of the flow in state space, we show that distinct control mechanisms underwrite discrete and fast rhythmic movements. In particular, we demonstrate that discrete movements require a time keeper while fast rhythmic movements do not. We validate our computational findings experimentally using a behavioral paradigm in which human participants performed finger flexion-extension movements at various movement paces and under different instructions. Our results demonstrate that the human motor system employs different timing control mechanisms (presumably via differential recruitment of neural subsystems) to accomplish varying behavioral functions such as speed constraints.

Citation Information
Huys, R., Studenka, B. E., Rheaume, N. R., Zelaznik, H. N., & Jirsa, V. K. (2008). Distinct timing mechanisms produce discrete and continuous movements. PLoS Computational Biology, 4, 1-8. doi:10.1371%1372Fjournal.pcbi.1000061