Comparison of Theories

Grand Canyon University: PSY-833

January 12, 2020


In seeking an explanation of how the nervous system produces a movement, two major behavior theories, namely the Generalized Motor Program (GMP) and the Dynamical Systems Theory (DS) regard the production and control of human movement as a process that varies from a simple reflex loop to a complex network of neural patterns that communicate throughout the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) (Anderson & Magill, 2013). Theories such as (GMP) give prominence to movement instructions specified by the central nervous system in the control process have in common some form of memory representation, such as a motor program, that provides the basis for organizing, initiating, and carrying out intended actions. In contrast, other theories such as the dynamic systems theory give more priority to information specified by the environment and to the dynamic interaction of this information with information from the task and the body, limbs, and nervous system. In this regard, this paper will attempt to compare and contrast the two theories while providing empirical support of the two theories and the rationale explaining the relevance and applicability of one theory over the other.

Comparison and Contrast of the Theories

First, both the Dynamical Systems Theory (DS) and Generalized Motor Program (GMP), term the results of successfully carrying out a particular pattern of movement as a state of diminished variability. Conversely, the positions of the two theories are in contrast when it comes to the variability consideration. The GMP theory, on one hand, considers the variations which take place during a movement pattern as a consequence of the errors that are made in a person’s ability to predict the required parameters useful in the execution of the general motor program. The implication of this idea, therefore, is that constant elimination of the errors a person makes will optimize the accuracy of the movement pattern (McMorris, 2004). Admittedly, this theory advocates for practice in order to create higher chances of predictability. The position taken by the DS is that variability is not an error but is rather a source of change in the movement behavior.

Additionally, a resemblance between DS and the GMP theory is that they are both ineffective in explaining the occurrences of a number of behavioral characteristics which may seem unwavering but take place in a number of different ways. A perfect example of such an instance is the ability of musicians and athletes to perform a task in several different ways (McMorris, 2004). The inference of this is that the ability of an individual to perform a certain act in a number of different ways makes the individual develop a stable behavioral state. It should be noted that this does not conform to the idea as held by both theories that proposes that variability reduces when individuals attain stability in the execution of certain behavioral patterns; this is because variability actually increases.

Another significant difference is that the GMP postulates that the changes that are present in movement behavior occur in what can be said to be a linear manner and on the contrary, DS posits that the movement is non-linear. It is the idea hypothesized by the DS theory that motor development does not occur in an incessant or steady manner but instead the existence of a tiny, yet decisive change can initiate a new motor behavior (Haggard & Wolff, 1991).

Empirical Support of the Generalized Motor Program Theory

There are three essential components which can be used in understanding the relations to the Generalized Motor Program (GMP) together with movement. The first essential component is the invariant feature. According to the Anderson & Magill (2013) research, the invariant components are the sets of unique characteristics which describe a general motor program and it does not show any discrepancy from one operation of action to another. The second essential component is the parameters; these include the features of the generalized motor programs which can be modified from skill to skill. However, the skills have to be added first to the Generalized Motor Program (GMP) before an individual can perform a skill in order to meet some of the particular movement demands of the situation. Relative time is the last essential component which can be used in understanding the relations to the Generalized Motor Program (GMP) together with movement. According to the Anderson & Magill, (2013) it involves proportion as well as the percentage of the total amount of time which is required by every single component of skill for the period of the skill performance. In the Schmidt’s’ research, they showed and describe the ways in which a person can adjust to the different environmental situations as well as circumstances. Movements help in adding motor learning, this establishes a motor program which may be used in performing body movements. A perfect example is the appending of a signature by a person using the dominant limb. The only conflict arising from this is the fact that there is an unexplained difficulty that may arise in the transfer of movement patterns from a homologous limb to a non-homologous limb. For example, a left-handed person may find it hard to sign using the right hand after learning how to sign with the left hand.

The GMP theory proposes that the brain or the Central nervous system stores the formulas that are required in the execution of motor movements. Studies of the theory have consequently led to the study of the motor movements known as internal models. The idea behind the models is that control signals are generated from the central nervous system and they result in the patterns of muscle force. This viewpoint posits that the central nervous system, therefore, has to take two factors into consideration in order for the desired movement to be achieved (Salem, 2012). The two factors include the delay required to transmit information from the central nervous system to the muscles and the steps that are normally required in changing the neural signals into what can be said to be mechanical variations.

Empirical Support of the Dynamic Systems Theory

The Dynamic System Theory has a number of input systems which makes it beneficial by allowing plasticity as well as malleability, as it forms a relationship with the motor behavior. Concerning Generalized Motor Program (GMP) theory, the skills had to be first added to the schema, and then to the motor programs in order to execute the limbs and other body parts movements. Conferring with the Dynamic System theory, the motor controls theory does not in any way adheres to the environmental as well as situational patterns which are changing constantly and are nonlinear. The two components which are associated with Dynamic System theory include; stability and nonlinear behavior. According to the research by Magill & Anderson, (2013), the nonlinear behavior of the Dynamic System theory is a behavior which is capable of changing in abrupt ways in response to any system as well as a linear increase in the value for some of the specific variables. The Dynamic System theory second component stability involves the behavioral states of the system which characterizes the desired behavioral states as well as incorporating the notion of invariance by perceiving that the stable system can naturally return to its stable state after it has been disturbed. An example that can be used to describe the Dynamic System theory second component stability would be a person who is driving down the road and a pedestrian all over suddenly enters the path where the driver is driving. As a result, the driver will be forced to makes sudden evasive maneuvers in order to avoid knocking down the pedestrian.

The rationale for Subscribing to Dynamic Systems Theory over Generalized Motor Program Theory

It is noteworthy that both theories are cognizant of the increased variability in the movement of a pattern, and they both propose that it is an indication of a diminished stability degree. DS is, therefore, preferred over GMP because it does lay emphasis on the transition that exists between the movement of behaviors. The Dynamic systems theory posits that biological systems alter their movements to a specific critical point where the system is not only very variable but also unstable. Notably, it is this variability that the DS theory uses to identify a better system. This is because the theory postulates that any system that lacks the degree of variability is in itself a rigid system. A perfect example is an instance where a person is walking on a track when the person increases his walking consistently, a point will reach when the person will be very unstable walking and shall, therefore, be forced to run (Dauwalder, 2003). This example perfectly illustrates the insight offered by this specific theory in offering an understanding of the transitions present between behavioral states. It is subject to the acknowledgment of the variability in the movement that the theory has been praised as a hypothetical introductory point to the study of perceived skills, developmental actions, and similarly cognitive skills.


The two theories as have been discussed, have differing viewpoints with regards to patterns of movement concerning variability. Notable among the differences is the explanation offered by the theories in relation to the influence that motor control instructions have on behavior and similarly how they are used to consider the linearity of alterations in movement. However, this does not imply that the two theories cannot compromise with each other as far as their frameworks is concerned. Today, research in motor development is tapping on several prospective outside the physical therapy domain. Studying motor development has helped psychologists understand the principles and processes of general development. It has also helped progress in the fields of mental health and education. Hence, understanding motor control and its development could potentially help someone improve their life. Irrespective of which theory one might support the main goal is to carry on the research in order to understand the cognitive activity and what happened in the nervous system to change this cognitive act into a motor act. Meanwhile, the basic understanding of the physiology underlying the control of voluntary movement establishes a more comprehensive appreciation and awareness of the capabilities and limitations of the people with whom a practitioner works. The person who plans to enter a profession where physical rehabilitation is the focus needs this knowledge for the assessment of physical dysfunctions and limitations as well as for the development of appropriate rehabilitation interventions.


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