The central interest of research in the Action Lab is the acquisition and control of goal-directed human movements. What organizational principles are at work in movement coordination? What principles guide the acquisition of novel skills? Specifically, our research focuses on the acquisition of novel perceptual-motor skills and on the manipulation of complex objects. The theoretical framework that pervades our studies interprets the actor as a dynamical system, which is high-dimensional, nonlinear, and capable of producing coordinated and adaptive actions. Our research pursues a three-pronged research strategy consisting of:

  1. an empirical component with behavioral experiments on human subjects using virtual environments,
  2. theoretical work which develops mathematical models of the behavioral task using dynamical systems, and
  3. brain imaging and stimulation studies that investigate the cerebral activity accompanying coordinated actions.

More recently, we have extended these experimental paradigms to individuals with neurological disorders such as dystonia and autism and to the elderly.

Our research is supported by the National Institutes of Health (R21-HD089731, R01-HD087089, R01-HD081346), the National Science Foundation (NSF-NRI 1637854, CRCNS-1723998, M3X-1825942), the Simons Foundation and an ARM grant.

Action Lab News

May 2019

May 17, 2019: After being in the Action Lab for almost 11 years (PhD and Postdoc), Se-Woong transitioned to his faculty position in Texas - with a party, a medal and a few “tears” from all of us, both current lab members and two previous graduates Meghan Huber and Zhaoran Zhang.

April 2019

April 2019: Our long-term lab member and Goldwater recipient Hannah Tam graduated in Biology with a minor in Clarinet performance at the New England Conservatory and she transitions across the river to pursue a PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard Medical School. Congratulations to Hannah! Take a look at her senior clarinet recital here.

April 2019

April 2019: Se-Woong will transition into a tenure-track faculty position in the city where his family lives - what a stroke of luck! All the best for Se-Woong’s new life and career.

April 2019

April 2019: Dagmar received the award of University Distinguished Professor.

January 2019

In January 2019, Marta and Aleksei started to record from dancers from the Boston Ballet to study postural balance at perfection! Take a look: What can ballet dancers teach us about balance?.

October 2018

Salah’s new paper in Chaos was chosen as an editor’s pick. See the short description of the research on stability in our cup of coffee task in Scilight. It also received press coverage in Physics Today.

July 2018

Zhaoran will be Dr. Zhaoran Zhang from now on. Congratulations to a fabulous performance! And here she is.

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Selected Recent Publications

  1. Bazzi, S., Ebert, J., Hogan, N., & Sternad, D. (2018). Stability and predictability in human control of complex objects. Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, 28(10), 103103.
  2. Maurice, P., Hogan, N., & Sternad, D. (2018). Predictability, effort, and (anti-)resonance in complex object control. Journal of Neurophysiology, 120, 2, 765-780.
  3. Zhang, Z., Guo, D., Huber, M.E., Park, S-W., & Sternad, D. (2018). Exploiting the geometry of solution space to reduce sensitivity to neuromotor noise. PLoS Computational Biology, 14, 2, e1006013.
  4. Sternad, D. (2018). It’s not (only) the mean that matters: variability, noise and exploration in skill acquisition. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 20, 183-195.

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