Cogn Neuropsychol 2008 Oct-Dec;25(7-8):996-1010
Department of Human Physiology, University of Rome "La Sapienza", Rome, Italy.
The ability of rapidly adapting our motor behaviour in order to face the unpredictable changes in the surrounding environment is fundamental for survival. To achieve such a high level of efficiency our motor system has to assess continuously the context in which it acts, gathering all available information that can be relevant for planning goal-oriented movements. One still-debated aspect of movement organization is the nature and timing of motor planning. While motor plans are often taken to be concerned with the setting of kinematic parameters as a function of perceptual and motor factors, it has been suggested that higher level, cognitive factors may also affect planning. To explore this issue further, we asked 18 right-handed human participants to perform speeded hand-reaching movement toward a visual target in two different experimental settings, a reaction time (RT) paradigm (go-only task) and a countermanding paradigm. In both tasks participants executed the same movements, but in the countermanding task no-stop trials were randomly intermixed with stop trials. In stop trials participants were required to withhold the ongoing movement whenever a stop signal was shown. It is known that the presence of stop trials induces a consistent increase of the RTs of no-stop trials with respect to the RTs of go-only trials. However, nothing is known about a similar effect for movement times (MTs). We found that RTs and MTs exhibit opposing tendencies, so that a decrease in the RT correspond to an increase in the MT and vice versa. This tendency was present in all our participants and significant in 90% of them. Furthermore we found a moderate, but again very consistent, anticorrelation between RTs and MTs on a trial-by-trial base. These findings are consistent with strategic changes in movement programmes for the very same movements under different cognitive contexts, requiring different degrees of feedback-driven control during movement.