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  • Silvia Buscaglione

Physically interacting humans regulate muscle coactivation to improve visuo-haptic perception

Börner H, Carboni G, Cheng X, Takagi A, Hirche S, Endo S and Burdet E (2023)

Journal of Neurophysiology 129(2): 494-9.


When moving a piano or dancing tango with a partner, how should I control my arm muscles to sense their movements and follow or guide them smoothly? Here we observe how physically connected pairs tracking a moving target with the arm modify muscle coactivation with their visual acuity and the partner’s performance. They coactivate muscles to stiffen the arm when the partner’s performance is worse and relax with blurry visual feedback. Computational modeling shows that this adaptive sensing property cannot be explained by the minimization of movement error hypothesis that has previously explained adaptation in dynamic environments. Instead, individuals skillfully control the stiffness to guide the arm toward the planned motion while minimizing effort and extracting useful information from the partner’s movement. The central nervous system regulates muscle activation to guide motion with accurate task information from vision and haptics while minimizing the metabolic cost. As a consequence, the partner with the most accurate target information leads the movement.

NEW & NOTEWORTHY Our results reveal that interacting humans inconspicuously modulate muscle activation to extract accurate information about the common target while considering their own and the partner’s sensorimotor noise. A novel computational model was developed to decipher the underlying mechanism: muscle coactivation is adapted to combine haptic information from the interaction with the partner and own visual information in a stochastically optimal manner. This improves the prediction of the target position with minimal metabolic cost in each partner, resulting in the lead of the partner with the most accurate visual information.

2023_Borner_Physically interacting humans regulate muscle coactivation to improve visuo-ha
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