Proprioceptive coordination of discrete movement sequences: Mechanism and generality

P. Cordo, L. Bevan, V. Gurfinkel, L. Carlton, M. Carlton, G. Kerr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


A 'discrete' movement sequence is defined as a movement with a single goal that involves a series of overlapping joint rotations. Reaching-and-grasping and throwing are examples of discrete movement sequences. The central nervous system (CNS) can use reafferent proprioceptive information from one joint rotation in a sequence to coordinate subsequent rotations at other joints. The experiments reported in this paper demonstrate how the human CNS uses proprioceptive information to coordinate discrete movement sequences. We examined the mechanism (at an information processing level) underlying proprioceptive coordination and the generality (i.e., the boundary conditions) of these mechanisms as they apply to everyday movement sequences. Adult human subjects performed a discrete movement sequence that resembles backhand throwing: elbow extension followed by hand opening. The task was to open the hand as the elbow passed through a prescribed 'target' angle. We eliminated visual information and made the arrival time at the target angle unpredictable so that the available kinematic information was provided exclusively by proprioception. The subjects were capable of performing this motor task with a high degree of precision, thereby demonstrating that the nervous system can use proprioceptive input to coordinate discrete movement sequences. Our data indicate that precise coordination is achieved by extracting kinematic information related to both the velocity of elbow rotation as well as the elbow position during movement (i.e., 'dynamic position'). Dynamic position information appears to be encoded as both absolute joint angle and angular distance, although more precisely as angular distance. Although our experiments were conducted under rather restrictive laboratory conditions, this mechanism of motor coordination might also apply to everyday movement. Our results suggest that this mechanism could be employed for passive as well as active movement sequences, with and without opposing loads; it could exert its influence in discrete movement sequences as brief as 210 ms or as long as 1.5 s; and it does not involve any significant degree of learning (this proprioceptive mechanism appears to be readily available for use on the first attempt of a novel motor task).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-315
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995


  • Arm
  • Human
  • Kinesthesia
  • Movement
  • Proprioception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology (medical)


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