Learning new coordination patterns in a manual visuomotor adaptation task in people without disorders and in people suffering from stroke


Host Institution: University Medical Center Groningen

Department that hosts the PhD: Department of Human Movement Sciences

Contact: Dr. Bongers (use this email contact only to request additional information, do NOT use this email for applications)


Project description

This project aims to characterize and stimulate exploration at muscle and joint level to learn to adapt to perturbations in the environment, such as a visuomotor rotation, to develop training strategies for patients with cerebellar stroke. There is a wealth of literature in how people adapt their movements of the index finger to visuomotor rotations in point-to-point reaching movements. However, adapting the movement of the index finger to a visuomotor rotation requires new and exploratory coordinative patterns in joints and muscles of the arm, that have until now received minimal attention in the literature. Importantly, the musculo-skeletal system is redundant and therefore learning to adapt requires a search for these new coordinative patterns. The current project focuses on this search while taking into account the neural constraints that shape the motor commands over learning (see PhD project 1). In the experimental task, participants perform point-to-point movement to targets in which a visuomotor rotated position of the index finger is presented as a cursor on a screen. In a series of studies a) search processes in the redundant muscle space and joint space will be characterized over learning to adapt to the visuomotor rotation, and b) it will be established which experimental conditions optimally stimulate the search processes. The conditions that show optimal search will be tested with patients suffering from a cerebellar stroke to stimulate their learning to make new arm movements.


People involved

Dr. Bongers

Dr. Smith

Dr. Reinders-Messelink

Dr. Schöner

Dr. Zhang


Key publications

Tuitert, I., Bootsma, R.J., Schoemaker, M.M., Otten, E., Mouton, J.J., Bongers, R.M.(2017). Does practicing a wide range of joint angle configurations lead to higher flexibility in a manual obstacle-avoidance target-pointing task? PLoS ONE, 12(7), e0181041. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000861

Valk, T.A., Mouton, L.J, Otten, E., Bongers, R.M. (2019). Fixed muscle synergies and their potential to improve the intuitive control of myoelectric assistive technology for upper extremities. Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation, 16, 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12984-018-0469-5

Wissing, M.G.B., Golenia, L., Smith, J., & Bongers, R.M. (2020). Adjustments in end-effector trajectory and underlying joint angle synergies after a target switch: Order of adjustment is flexible. PLoS ONE, 15(9): e0238561. https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pone.0238561


Specific required skills of PhD student

Skill area
Language (writing) English
Language (speaking) English, Dutch (preferred or willingness to learn)
Programming Matlab
Statistics ANOVA, multiple regression
Statistical programs SPSS, R
Background Human Movement Sciences

Sport and Exercise science


Experimental Psychology

Biomedical Engineering

Cognitive Psychology

Rehabilitation science

Project specific knowledge Basics in algebra, synergies


Project characteristics

Primary focus project Behavioral experiments on how humans learn new coordinative patterns in the arm:

Able-bodied adults without disorders

Adults suffering from stroke

Methods Kinematics of arm and hand, 3D joint angles of arm, kinetics in joints, EMG of arm muscles, Uncontrolled Manifold method