The following factors underlying behavioral plasticity are discussed: (1) reflex adaptability and its role in the voluntary control of movement, (2) degrees of freedom and motor equivalence, and (3) the problem of the discrete organization of motor behavior. Our discussion concerns a variety of innate motor patterns, with emphasis on the wiping reflex in the frog.
It is proposed that central regulation of stretch reflex thresholds governs voluntary control over muscle force and length. This suggestion is an integral part of the equilibrium-point hypothesis, two versions of which are compared.
Kinematic analysis of the wiping reflex in the spinal frog has shown that each stimulated skin site is associated with a group of different but equally effective trajectories directed to the target site. Such phenomena reflect the principle of motor equivalence -the capacity of the neuronal structures responsible for movement to select one or another of a set of possible trajectories leading to the goal. Redundancy of degrees of freedom at the neuronal level as well as at the mechanical level of the body's joints makes motor equivalence possible. This sort of equivalence accommodates the overall flexibility of motor behavior.
An integrated behavioral act or a single movement consists of dynamic components. We distinguish six components for the wiping reflex, each associated with a certain functional goal, specific body positions, and motor-equivalent movement patterns. The nervous system can combine the available components in various ways in forming integrated behavioral sequences. The significance of command neuronal organization is discussed with respect to (1) the combinatory strategy of the nervous system and (2) the relation between continuous and discrete forms of motor control. We conclude that voluntary movements are effected by the central nervous system with the help of the mechanisms that underlie the variability and modifiability of innate motor patterns.