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Matter over mind
Date:7/8/2009

A new study suggests activities combining movement and force tax our brains to capacity, countering a long-held belief that difficulty with dexterous tasks results from the limits of the muscles themselves. The findings may help explain why minor damage to the neuromuscular system can at times profoundly affect one's ability to complete everyday tasks.

The research, supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, appears in the July 8, 2009, Journal of Neuroscience.

"Our results show how much the mechanics of the body, and a given task, affect what the brain can or can't do," said Francisco Valero-Cuevas of the Brain-Body Dynamics Lab at the University of Southern California, who led the research. "The so-called 'problem' of muscle redundancy--having too many muscles and joints to control--may not be the only challenge the brain faces when controlling our bodies. Rather, we seem to have about as many muscles as we need, and not too many, as others have proposed in the past."

"The scientific world and the clinical world have long been arriving at conflicting conclusions, and this work begins to resolve the paradox," added Valero-Cuevas. "While neuroscience and biomechanics studies have suggested that muscles and joints are, in theory, redundant and provide numerous alternative solutions to simple tasks, clinicians routinely see people seeking treatment for hand disability resulting from relatively minor conditions such as aging."

This research follows earlier experiments that suggested our brain and complex musculature can barely keep up with requirements posed by our anatomy and the mechanics of even ordinary, real-world, finger tasks like rubbing a surface. The conclusions begin to explain why even minor damage to the neuromuscular system seems to produce real deficits in manipulation.

The research focused on simultaneous force and motion--specifically from finge
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Contact: Joshua A. Chamot
jchamot@nsf.gov
703-292-7730
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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