Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from JNER and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research

Load emphasizes muscle effort minimization during selection of arm movement direction

Wanyue Wang and Natalia Dounskaia*

Author Affiliations

Kinesiology Program, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 85287, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2012, 9:70  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-9-70

Published: 4 October 2012



Directional preferences during center-out horizontal shoulder-elbow movements were previously established for both the dominant and non-dominant arm with the use of a free-stroke drawing task that required random selection of movement directions. While the preferred directions were mirror-symmetrical in both arms, they were attributed to a tendency specific for the dominant arm to simplify control of interaction torque by actively accelerating one joint and producing largely passive motion at the other joint. No conclusive evidence has been obtained in support of muscle effort minimization as a contributing factor to the directional preferences. Here, we tested whether distal load changes directional preferences, making the influence of muscle effort minimization on the selection of movement direction more apparent.


The free-stroke drawing task was performed by the dominant and non-dominant arm with no load and with 0.454 kg load at the wrist. Motion of each arm was limited to rotation of the shoulder and elbow in the horizontal plane. Directional histograms of strokes produced by the fingertip were calculated to assess directional preferences in each arm and load condition. Possible causes for directional preferences were further investigated by studying optimization across directions of a number of cost functions.


Preferences in both arms to move in the diagonal directions were revealed. The previously suggested tendency to actively accelerate one joint and produce passive motion at the other joint was supported in both arms and load conditions. However, the load increased the tendency to produce strokes in the transverse diagonal directions (perpendicular to the forearm orientation) in both arms. Increases in required muscle effort caused by the load suggested that the higher frequency of movements in the transverse directions represented increased influence of muscle effort minimization on the selection of movement direction. This interpretation was supported by cost function optimization results.


While without load, the contribution of muscle effort minimization was minor, and therefore, not apparent, the load revealed this contribution by enhancing it. Unlike control of interaction torque, the revealed tendency to minimize muscle effort was independent of arm dominance.

Movement cost; Interaction torque; Multi-joint; Dominant arm; Muscle energy