Self-organization of reflexive behavior from spontaneous motor activity

Marques, Hugo ; Imtiaz, Farhan ; Iida, Fumiya ; Pfeifer, Rolf

In: Biological Cybernetics, 2013, vol. 107, no. 1, p. 25-37

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    In mammals, the development of reflexes is often regarded as an innate process. However, recent findings show that fetuses are endowed with favorable conditions for ontogenetic development. In this article, we hypothesize that the circuitry of at least some mammalian reflexes can be self-organized from the sensory and motor interactions brought forth in a musculoskeletal system. We focus mainly on three reflexes: the myotatic reflex, the reciprocal inhibition reflex, and the reverse myotatic reflex. To test our hypothesis, we conducted a set of experiments on a simulated musculoskeletal system using pairs of agonist and antagonist muscles. The reflex connectivity is obtained by producing spontaneous motor activity in each muscle and by correlating the resulting sensor and motor signals. Our results show that, under biologically plausible conditions, the reflex circuitry thus obtained is consistent with that identified in relation to the analogous mammalian reflexes. In addition, they show that the reflex connectivity obtained depends on the morphology of the musculoskeletal system as well as on the environment that it is embedded in