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Complementary spatial and timing control in rhythmic arm movements

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2019-04-01
Nickl, Robert W.
Ankaralı, Mustafa Mert
Cowan, Noah J.
Volitional rhythmic motor behaviors such as limb cycling and locomotion exhibit spatial and timing regularity. Such rhythmic movements are executed in the presence of exogenous visual and nonvisual cues, and previous studies have shown the pivotal role that vision plays in guiding spatial and temporal regulation. However, the influence of nonvisual information conveyed through auditory or touch sensory pathways, and its effect on control, remains poorly understood. To characterize the function of nonvisual feedback in rhythmic arm control, we designed a paddle juggling task in which volunteers bounced a ball off a rigid elastic surface to a target height in virtual reality by moving a physical handle with the right hand. Feedback was delivered at two key phases of movement: visual feedback at ball peaks only and simultaneous audio and haptic feedback at ball-paddle collisions. In contrast to previous work, we limited visual feedback to the minimum required for jugglers to assess spatial accuracy, and we independently perturbed the spatial dimensions and the timing of feedback. By separately perturbing this information, we evoked dissociable effects on spatial accuracy and timing, confirming that juggling, and potentially other rhythmic tasks, involves two complementary processes with distinct dynamics: spatial error correction and feedback timing synchronization. Moreover, we show evidence that audio and haptic feedback provide sufficient information for the brain to control the timing synchronization process by acting as a metronome-like cue that triggers hand movement.