Human movement variability, nonlinear dynamics, and pathology: Is there a connection?

Nicholas Stergiou, Leslie M. Decker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

681 Scopus citations


Fields studying movement generation, including robotics, psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience utilize concepts and tools related to the pervasiveness of variability in biological systems. The concept of variability and the measures for nonlinear dynamics used to evaluate this concept open new vistas for research in movement dysfunction of many types. This review describes innovations in the exploration of variability and their potential importance in understanding human movement. Far from being a source of error, evidence supports the presence of an optimal state of variability for healthy and functional movement. This variability has a particular organization and is characterized by a chaotic structure. Deviations from this state can lead to biological systems that are either overly rigid and robotic or noisy and unstable. Both situations result in systems that are less adaptable to perturbations, such as those associated with unhealthy pathological states or absence of skillfulness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)869-888
Number of pages20
JournalHuman Movement Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior cruciate ligament
  • Cerebral concussion
  • Chaos
  • Infant motor development
  • Passive dynamic walker
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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