Complex systems and human movement

Gottfried Mayer-Kress*, Yeou Teh Liu, Karl M. Newell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Human movement reveals the hall mark characteristics of complex systems: namely, many interacting subsystems, multiple interactions within and between levels of analysis, emergence of movement coordination modes, and the exhibition of varying levels of the complexity of system output that continually evolve with learning and development over the life span. Here we outline how this high or infinitely dimensional complex dynamical system can be modeled by an epigenetic landscape framework - in the sense of Waddington - that captures the key features of the adaptive qualitative and quantitative properties of coordination modes ("order parameters"), the degeneracy of movement organization and the time scales of change. The framework provides some new ways to consider old problems in motor learning and development - such as an explicit and quantitative approach to exploring the concept of motor programs and developmental pathways - and yields new results and insights into the organization of learning during practice and rest times. For instance along one dimension of the landscape most of the changes occur between practice sessions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-51
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Degrees of freedom
  • Epigenetic landscape framework
  • Interacting subsystems
  • Motor learning
  • Time scales

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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