Motor costs and the coordination of the two arms

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19 Scopus citations


We have two arms, many muscles in each arm, and numerous neurons that contribute to their control. How does the brain assign responsibility to each of these potential actors? We considered a bimanual task in which people chose how much force to produce with each arm so that the sum would equal a target. We found that the dominant arm made a greater contribution, but only for specific directions. This was not because the dominant arm was stronger. Rather, it was less noisy. A cost that included unimanual noise and strength accounted for both direction- and handedness-dependent choices that young people made. To test whether there was a causal relationship between unimanual noise and bimanual control, we considered elderly people, whose unimanual noise is comparable in the two arms. We found that, in bimanual control, the elderly showed no preference for their dominant arm. We noninvasively stimulated the motor cortex to produce a change in unimanual strength and noise, and found a corresponding change in bimanual control. Using the noise measurements, we built a neuronal model. The model explained the anisotropic distribution of preferred directions of neurons in the monkey motor cortex and predicted that, in humans, there are changes in the number of these cortical neurons with handedness and aging. Therefore, we found that coordination can be explained by the noise and strength of each effector, where noise may be a reflection of the number of task-related neurons available for control of that effector in the motor cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1806-1818
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014


  • Aging
  • Handedness
  • Optimal control
  • Signal-dependent noise
  • tDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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