Control of brain over human movements

2 min readJul 19, 2020

Isn’t it just beautiful to watch ballerinas perform? How about a rhythmic gymnast? The way they perform and control their bodies along with dance props (ball, hoop, ribbon, etc.) is indeed remarkable. Their coordination is worth appreciating. Dagmar Sternad, professor of Biology, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Physics at Northeastern University, on those performers, said, “She extends her movements toward the object. She is one with the object.”

Sternad had given a lecture on the wonder of human movements and how the brain controls the body. During this, she also shared pictures of gymnasts and dancers to explain the phenomena. This lecture was delivered when she received the 50 th annual Robert D. Klein University Lecturer award. Sternad spoke about the control of the brain overall human movements and on the other hand, highlighted the issues of sufferers of brain and nerve disorders like Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, children with dystonia, etc. To this, Sternad also said, “We have no cure, we have ways to ameliorate the symptoms, but no cure.”

In her lecture, she emphasised the complexity of the human brain, which has billions of neurons and connections. To know the answer of how this complex network controls movements, Sternad and her team worked backwards by observing a certain behaviour or action and then finding the neurons that caused it. Her study reveals that one may not know the mathematical calculations or theories that follow a task. We just learn the physics of it, we rehearse it, and that’s how we ace a task. To explain the condition of patients with Parkinson’s disease, she used the example of the table skittles game. She added that such patients have control over the trajectory of the ball but not over the timing of its release.

Also, under pressure, most talented athletes can crack. To simulate the sense of competition threat, Sternad has partnered with Stephen Harkins (Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University). They aim to develop methods in which the contestants would perform either by knowing or not knowing the chances of their success so that the nuanced coordination between the brain and body would degrade and not affect their performance. “So, mind matters,” said Sternad.

Arpita Priyadarshinee

Originally published at