WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Typing on a keyboard or scribbling on paper may be similar activities, but there is a significant difference in how the body moves, according to new motor development research.
"In language we start with letters that lead to syllables that lead to words, and we use grammar to put everything together," said Howard N. Zelaznik, a Purdue University professor of health and kinesiology. "One of the fundamental questions in motor control is whether there is an alphabet that guides movement.
"We wanted to know if discrete skills, which have a definite beginning and end, such as typing, are controlled identically to continuous skills, such as scribbling, which do not have such a clear beginning and end. Or, are continuous movements composed of a series of discrete movements that are knotted together" On both accounts, the answer is no."
Zelaznik was part of research team led by Viktor Jirsa, director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and a professor of movement sciences at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France, and Raoul Huys, a research associate at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique as well as at the University of the Mediterranean. Purdue graduate students Breanna Studenka and Nicole Rheaume also were part of the team. Their research findings were published Thursday (April 17) in the Public Library of Science's Computational Biology online journal.
"Potential implications for physical therapy and humanoid robotics are immense," Zelaznik said. "This work shows that discrete and continuous movements must be considered separate classes of movement."
For example, in a physical therapy setting many skills are taught discretely first, such as stepping or bending a joint, and then the patient is told to perform continuously, such as walking. Humanoid robots, which resemble people and walk upright, often control movements as a series of
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