Errors in pointing are due to approximations in sensorimotor transformations

J. F. Soechting, M. Flanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

242 Scopus citations


We define an extrinsic frame of reference to represent the location of a point in extrapersonal space relative to a human subject's shoulder, and we define an intrinsic frame of reference to represent the orientation of the arm and forearm. We examined the relations between coordinates in the extrinsic and intrinsic frames of reference under two experimental conditions: when subjects made inaccurate movements by pointing to virtual targets in the dark and when they made accurate movements by pointing to actual targets in the light. When subjects made inaccurate movements, there was a close-to-linear relationship between the orientation angles of the arm (intrinsic coordinates) at its final position and the extrinsic coordinates of the target. When they made accurate movements, these relationships were more nonlinear. Specifically, arm and forearm elevations depended principally on target distance and elevation, whereas the two yaw angles depended mainly on the target's azimuth. We propose that errors in pointing occur because subjects implement a linear approximation to the transformation from extrinsic to intrinsic coordinates and that this transformation is one step in the proces of transforming a visually derived representation of target location into an appropriate pattern of muscle activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-608
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1989

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