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Pan European Networks: Science & Technology





otor activity and motion intelligence have been central

dimensions of biological organisms for millions of

years. Important stages in evolution are mainly based

on the establishment of new functional links between the motor

system, related memory structures and perception. In human

evolution, refined motor actions like dance or sports have always

been important elements of all cultures.

The cognitive architecture of human action

As we have learned from an evolutionary perspective, and from

cognitive science during recent years, cognitive and motor process

underlying actions are strongly interconnected. From our point of

view, human motor actions are not isolated events with defined

start and endpoints, but are built upon evolved hierarchical

structures consisting of different levels and modules. Cyclic

movements like walking, swimming or cycling are controlled by

very old neurophysiological structures in our brains. In contrast,

goal-directed manual actions required for tool use, like turning a

screw, are controlled by different brain structures that are much

younger in evolutionary terms. In our understanding, such

distinctive goal-directed actions are performed on the basis of

precise representations in motor memory.

To learn about building blocks of motor performance in our

memory and underlying brain structures, the Neurocognition and

Action – Biomechanics Research Group (NCA) investigates

biological motion in natural and artificial (e.g. virtual reality)

environments. The main focus of our research is the

neurocognitive architecture of human motor action and its

adaptability under various conditions. For this purpose, we use

state-of-the-art research methods to investigate the

neurocognitive organisation and kinematic parameters of human

motor functions.

Understanding the neurocognitive architecture of actions based

on empirical research is, on the one hand, an important step for

applied fields, like mental coaching of athletes in high-

performance sports or rehabilitation. On the other hand, it is

fundamental for the growing field of cognitive robotics, particularly

for the central goal to elevate the currently still rigid action

repertoire of robots to a level that allows the robot to select and

adjust its actions flexibly, according to the varying demands of

real-world scenarios.

Building bridges between biological and

technical systems

For smooth interactions with humans, a robot or virtual avatar

should be able to establish and maintain a shared focus of

The Neurocognition and Action research group explores human

performance and optimises learning processes

Fig. 1 The Cognition and Action Laboratories (Coala) represent a

cluster of seven different, well-equipped laboratories for conducting

experimental studies investigating kinematic, cognitive and perceptual

processes in human motor action

Fig. 2 In co-operation with the neuroinformatics group and other

partners within CITEC, we investigate familiarisation with objects

through manual exploration, connecting vision, touch, representation

and language