Synergies in coordination: A comprehensive overview of neural, computational, and behavioral approaches

Michaela Bruton, Nicholas O’Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


At face value, the term “synergy” provides a unifying concept within a fractured field that encompasses complementary neural, computational, and behavioral approaches. However, the term is not used synonymously by different researchers but has substantially different meanings depending on the research approach. With so many operational definitions for the one term, it becomes difficult to use as either a descriptive or explanatory concept, yet it remains pervasive and apparently indispensable. Here we provide a summary of different approaches that invoke synergies in a descriptive or explanatory context, summarizing progress, not within the one approach, but across the theoretical landscape. Bernstein’s framework of flexible hierarchical control may provide a unifying framework here, since it can incorporate divergent ideas about synergies. In the current motor control literature, synergy may refer to conceptually different processes that could potentially operate in parallel, across different levels within the same hierarchical control scheme. There is evidence for the concurrent existence of synergies with different features, both “hard-wired” and “soft-wired,” and task independent and task dependent. By providing a comprehensive overview of the multifaceted ideas about synergies, our goal is to move away from the compartmentalization and narrow the focus on one level and promote a broader perspective on the control and coordination of movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2761-2774
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


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