Neurobiological degeneracy: A key property for functional adaptations of perception and action to constraints

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Abstract

A crucial aspect of understanding human behavior relates to how perception and action sub-systems are integrated during coordinated and controlled movement in goal-directed activity. Here we discuss how a neurobiological system property, degeneracy (i.e., many coordinative structures to achieve one function), can help us understand how skilled individuals functionally adapt perception and action to interacting constraints during performance. Since most research investigating degeneracy has been conducted in neuroanatomy, genetics and theoretical neurobiology, here we clarify how degeneracy is exhibited in perceptual-motor systems. Using an ecological dynamics framework, we highlight how degeneracy underpins the functional role of movement coordination variability in performance of multi-articular tasks. Following that, we discuss how degenerate neurobiological systems are able to exploit system stability and flexibility in their movement coordination. Third, we show how better coupling of information and movement could lead individuals to explore functionally degenerate behaviors. Last, we explore how degeneracy can support pluri-potentiality (i.e., one coordinative structure for many perceptual-motor functions) as a way toward innovation or refinement in performance.

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