Fontaine, Lee & Swinnen (1997): Experiment 1

|ReviewThe influence of Intrinsic Patterns on the Acquisition of a New Coordination Pattern


This post is the first in a series that will build up a picture of the coordinated rhythmic movement (CRM) literature.  Today we are looking at a paper by Fontaine, Lee, and Swinnen (1997).

You might think it’s a strange place to start. Why not start from an earlier point, with Kelso (1995) and his theoretical outline? Well, in one way, this paper was actually one of the first pieces of evidence that Kelso’s approach was incomplete, which led to the development of the perception-action work I will be focusing on.


The motivation for this study came from a prediction by Zanone and Kelso (1992, 1994):

Learning a new CRM pattern is influenced by the intrinsic coordination patterns.

These intrinsic patterns are 0° (in-phase: two oscillators moving in unison) and 180° (anti-phase: two oscillators moving in perfect opposition). Of the two intrinsic patterns, 0° is more stable than 180° (see Kelso, 1995, for a review). This stability is evident when we increase the frequency of these two patterns: where 0° holds, 180° folds; leading to a spontaneous transition to 0°. This transition happens around 3-4Hz.

This behaviour is explained in the language of attractors. 0° is a stronger attractor than 180°, so it has a greater pull on the system. In the context of learning, this pre-existing landscape of attractors (0° and 180°) should have an effect on any to-be-learned patterns.

Zanone and Kelso went a step further with their prediction stating,

“learning rate should vary inversely with the stability of the closest intrinsic attractor to the required pattern” (Zanone & Kelso, 1994, p. 482.)

In other words; the stronger the attractor, the stronger the negative influence on learning.

Putting it to the test

To test this theory Fontaine et al (1997) performed a learning study in which they divided participants into two groups. One group learned 45° (which is 45° away from 0°) and the other group learned 135° (which is 45° away from 180°). Participants received augmented feedback in the form of a Lissajous figure. Following the prediction by Zanone and Kelso, we should expect to see greater competition from the stronger attractor at 0° and a slower learning rate at 45° in comparison to 135°


The results were not as predicted. In the early stages of practice, the 45° pattern was more stable (measured by standard deviation) than the 135° pattern. These stability differences were lost by the 4th day of practice. The accuracy (measured by absolute constant error) data was slightly more perplexing. Initially, the 135° pattern was performed with more accuracy than the 45° pattern. By day 3 of practice, this difference was reversed; 45° was performed with more accuracy. This difference was maintained throughout. The retention data showed no significant difference between the learned patterns. These results contradict the prediction by Zanone and Kelso (1992, 1994). The pattern closer to 0° was not more difficult to learn.


If 180° is a weaker attractor than 0°, we would expect 135° to be easier to learn. It wasn’t. These results question the existence of an attractor landscape at the level of the dynamics. If there is no pull on new patterns, do these attractors exist? Is there an alternative explanation that can clarify these results?

Before we abandon the HKB model (and its lovely attractors) we’ll look at a more recent attempt to test Zanone and Kelso’s predictions.


Click here for a short summary of Experiment 2


Fontaine, R. J., Lee, T. D., & Swinnen, S. P. (1997). Learning a new bimanual coordination pattern: reciprocal influences of intrinsic and to-be-learned patterns. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology = Revue Canadienne de Psychologie Expérimentale, 51(1), 1–9. Retrieved from

Kelso, J. A. S. (1995). Dynamic patterns. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. ISBN: 9780262611312

Zanone, P. G., & Kelso, J.A.S. (1992). Evolution of Behavioral Attractors with Learning: Nonequilibrium Phase Transitions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 18(2), 403–421.

Zanone, P.G., & Kelso, J.A.S. (1994). The coordination dynamics of learning: Theoretical structure and experimental agenda. In S.P. Swinnen, H. Heuer, J. Massion, & P. Casaer (Eds.), Interlimb coordination: Neural, dynamical, and cognitive constraints (pp. 461-490). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.



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