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Symmetry, broken symmetry, and handedness in bimanual coordination dynamics

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The symmetrical dynamics of 1∶1 rhythmic bimanual coordination may be specified by an order parameter equation involving the relative phase between rhythmic components, and an interlimb coupling which determines the relative attractiveness of in-phase and anti-phase patterns. Symmetry breaking of these dynamics can occur via the difference in the natural frequencies, Δω, of the left and right rhythmic components, or by the intrinsic asymmetrical dynamics of the body. The latter is captured by additional terms that render the symmetrical coupling slightly anisotropic. A major prediction resulting from this step is that although Δω=0, as the frequency of coordination is increased, the asymmetrical coupling will increase and the symmetrical coupling will decrease. This results in a greater left-limb bias in left-handers and right-limb bias in right-handers. This “increased handedness” prediction was confirmed in an experiment in which 20 left-handed and 20 right-handed individuals performed 1∶ 1 coordination with hand-held rigid pendulums. Manipulations of left and right pendulum lengths controlled Δω, and the coupled frequency was determined by a metronome. Also confirmed was the prediction that the small shift in equilibria from in-phase and anti-phase due to the intrinsic asymmetry should be amplified in left-handers when Δω > 0 and in right-handers when Δω < 0. Further, the bias in left-handers was more consistent than the bias in right-handers, and a subgroup of right-handers was identified who performed similarly to left-handers. The coordination dynamics of functional asymmetry provides insights into the elementary synergy between the limbs, the dynamical mechanism that modulates it, and the nature of the asymmetry in left-handed and right-handed individuals.

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Treffner, P.J., Turvey, M.T. Symmetry, broken symmetry, and handedness in bimanual coordination dynamics. Exp Brain Res 107, 463–478 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00230426

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Key words

  • Handedness
  • Dynamics
  • Rhythmic movement
  • Synergies
  • Human