Unconstrained point-to-point reaching movements performed in the horizontal plane tend to follow roughly straight hand paths with smooth, bell-shaped velocity profiles. The objective of the research reported here was to explore the hypothesis that these data reflect an underlying learning process that prefers simple paths in space. Under this hypothesis, movements are learned based only on spatial errors between the actual hand path and a desired hand path; temporally varying targets are not allowed. We designed a neural network architecture that learned to produce neural commands to a set of muscle-like actuators based only on information about spatial errors. Following repetitive executions of the reaching task, the network was able to generate point-to-point horizontal arm movements and the resulting muscle activation patterns and hand trajectories were found to be similar to those observed experimentally for human subjects. The implications of our results with respect to current theories of multijoint limb movement generation are discussed.

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