Electromyographic correlates of learning an internal model of reaching movements

Kurt A. Thoroughman, Reza Shadmehr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

327 Scopus citations


Theoretical and psychophysical studies have suggested that humans learn to make reaching movements in novel dynamic environments by building specific internal models (IMs). Here we have found electromyographic correlates of internal model formation. We recorded EMG from four muscles as subjects learned to move a manipulandum that created systematic forces (a 'force field'). We also simulated a biomechanical controller, which generated movements based on an adaptive IM of the inverse dynamics of the human arm and the manipulandum. The simulation defined two metrics of muscle activation. The first metric measured the component of the EMG of each muscle that counteracted the force field. We found that early in training, the field-appropriate EMG was driven by an error feedback signal. As subjects practiced, the peak of the field-appropriate EMG shifted temporally to earlier in the movement, becoming a feedforward command. The gradual temporal shift suggests that the CNS may use the delayed error-feedback response, which was likely to have been generated through spinal reflex circuits, as a template to learn a predictive feedforward response. The second metric quantified formation of the IM through changes in the directional bias of each muscle's spatial EMG function, i.e., EMG as a function of movement direction. As subjects practiced, co-activation decreased, and the directional bias of each muscle's EMG function gradually rotated by an amount that was specific to the field being learned. This demonstrates that formation of an IM can be represented through rotations in the spatial tuning of muscle EMG functions. Combined with other recent work linking spatial tunings of EMG and motor cortical cells, these results suggest that rotations in motor cortical tuning functions could underlie representation of internal models in the CNS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8573-8588
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 1999


  • Computational modeling
  • Electromyography
  • Human
  • Internal model
  • Motor control
  • Motor learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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