Tuesday 25 September 2018

Tolerance, Noise and Covariation in Skilled Action

The field of motor control has been recently steadily moving towards the idea that there is no such thing as an ideal movement. The system is not trying to reliably produce a single, stable, perfect form, and movement variability has gone from being treated as noise to being studied and analysed as a key feature of a flexible, adaptive control process. This formalises Bernstein's notion of 'repetition without repetition' in movement, and recognises that the redundancy in our behavioural capabilities relative to any given task allows for multiple solutions to that task being legitimate options. 

There are many new analysis techniques within this 'motor abundance' framework, and I've reviewed most of them already; uncontrolled manifold analysis, stochastic optimal control theory and goal equivalent manifolds are the three big ones, as well as nonlinear covariation analysis. The essence of all these methods is that they take variability in the execution or outcome of a movement, and decompose that variability into variability that does not interfere with achieving the outcome and variability that does

This post will explain the variability decomposition process in Sternad & Cohen's (2009) Tolerance, Noise and Covariation (TNC) analysis, which my students and I are busily applying to some new throwing data from the lab. I have talked a little about this analysis here but I focused on the part of the analysis that involves a task dynamical analysis identical to the one I did for my throwing paper in 2016. In this post, I want to explain the TNC analysis itself. I will be relying on Sternad et al, 2010, which I've found to be a crystal clear explanation of the entire approach; you can also download Matlab code implementing the analysis from her website.