How optimal is bimanual tracking? The key role of hand coordination in space.
Journal of Neurophysiology. 2019-11-06; :
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When coordinating two hands to achieve a common goal, the nervous system has to assign responsibility to each hand. Optimal control theory suggests that this problem is solved by minimizing costs such as the variability of movement and effort. However the natural tendency to produce similar movements during bimanual tasks has been somewhat ignored by this approach. Here we consider a task in which participants were asked to track a moving target by means of a single cursor controlled simultaneously by the two hands. Two types of hand-cursor mappings were tested: one in which the cursor position resulted from the average location of two hands (MEAN), and one in which horizontal and vertical positions of the cursor were driven separately by each hand (SPLIT). As expected, unimanual tracking performance was better with the dominant hand than with the more variable non-dominant hand. More interestingly, instead of exploiting this effect by increasing the use of the dominant hand, the contributions from both hands remained symmetrical during bimanual cooperative tasks. Indeed, for both mappings, and even after 6min of practice, the right and left hands remained strongly correlated, performing similar movements in extrinsic space. Persistence of this bimanual coupling demonstrates that participants prefer to maintain similar movements at the expense of unnecessary movements (in the SPLIT task), and of increased noise from the non-dominant hand (in the MEAN task). Altogether, the findings suggest that bimanual tracking exploits hand coordination in space rather than minimizing motor costs associated with variability and effort.