Automatically characterizing sensory-motor patterns underlying reach-to-grasp movements on a physical depth inversion Illusion

Jillian Nguyen, Ushma V. Majmudar, Jay H. Ravaliya, Thomas V. Papathomas, Elizabeth B. Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Recently, movement variability has been of great interest to motor control physiologists as it constitutes a physical, quantifiable form of sensory feedback to aid in planning, updating, and executing complex actions. In marked contrast, the psychological and psychiatric arenas mainly rely on verbal descriptions and interpretations of behavior via observation. Consequently, a large gap exists between the body’s manifestations of mental states and their descriptions, creating a disembodied approach in the psychological and neural sciences: contributions of the peripheral nervous system to central control, executive functions, and decision-making processes are poorly understood. How do we shift from a psychological, theorizing approach to characterize complex behaviors more objectively? We introduce a novel, objective, statistical framework, and visuomotor control paradigm to help characterize the stochastic signatures of minute fluctuations in overt movements during a visuomotor task. We also quantify a new class of covert movements that spontaneously occur without instruction. These are largely beneath awareness, but inevitably present in all behaviors. The inclusion of these motions in our analyses introduces a new paradigm in sensory-motor integration. As it turns out, these movements, often overlooked as motor noise, contain valuable information that contributes to the emergence of different kinesthetic percepts. We apply these new methods to help better understand perception-action loops. To investigate how perceptual inputs affect reach behavior, we use a depth inversion illusion (DII): the same physical stimulus produces two distinct depth percepts that are nearly orthogonal, enabling a robust comparison of competing percepts. We find that the moment-by-moment empirically estimated motor output variability can inform us of the participants’ perceptual states, detecting physiologically relevant signals from the peripheral nervous system that reveal internal mental states evoked by the bi-stable illusion. Our work proposes a new statistical platform to objectively separate changes in visual perception by quantifying the unfolding of movement, emphasizing the importance of including in the motion analyses all overt and covert aspects of motor behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number694
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberJAN2016
StatePublished - Jan 5 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Action and perception
  • Sensory-motor integration
  • Statistical platform
  • Visual illusions
  • Visuomotor behavior
  • Visuomotor integration


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