Movement duration, fitts's law, and an infinite-horizon optimal feedback control model for biological motor systems

Ning Qian, Yu Jiang, Zhong Ping Jiang, Pietro Mazzoni

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Optimization models explain many aspects of biological goal-directed movements. However, most such models use a finite-horizon formulation, which requires a prefixed movement duration to define a cost function and solve the optimization problem.To predict movement duration, these models have to be run multiple times with different prefixed durations until an appropriate duration is found by trial and error. The constrained minimum time model directly predicts movement duration; however, it does not consider sensory feedback and is thus applicable only to openloop movements. To address these problems, we analyzed and simulated an infinite-horizon optimal feedback control model, with linear plants, that contains both control-dependent and control-independent noise and optimizes steady-state accuracy and energetic costs per unit time. The model applies the steady-state estimator and controller continuously to guide an effector to, and keep it at, target position. As such, it integrates movement control and posture maintenance without artificially dividing them with a precise, prefixed time boundary. Movement pace is determined by the model parameters, and the duration is an emergent property with trial-to-trial variability. By considering the mean duration, we derived both the log and power forms of Fitts's law as different approximations of themodel.Moreover, themodel reproduces typically observed velocity profiles and occasional transient overshoots. For unbiased sensory feedback, the effector reaches the target without bias, in contrast to finite-horizon models that systematically undershoot target when energetic cost is considered. Finally, the model does not involve backward and forward sweeps in time, its stability is easily checked, and the same solution applies to movements of different initial conditions and distances. We argue that biological systems could use steady-state solutions as default control mechanisms and might seek additional optimization of transient costs when justified or demanded by task or context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-724
Number of pages28
JournalNeural Computation
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013


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