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The effects of changing movement velocity and complexity on response preparation: evidence from latency, kinematic, and EMG measures


If movement control is afforded through the advance planning, or preprogramming, of upcoming actions, then one of the behavioral outcomes should be an increase in reaction time (RT) as the movement becomes more complex. In some situations, however, RT does not increase across levels of complexity, rather it remains invariant. In these cases, on-line preparation is typically inferred. That is, the sequence is said to be prepared in parts throughout the movement, as opposed to entirely beforehand. Given that there is some planning occurring during the sequence, then evidence of this process should be apparent within the movement itself. Three such dependent variables appear to provide such evidence. Specifically, the number of times the underlying accelerations cross the zero line within the movement, the number of ‘significant deviations’ within the acceleration trace, and the length of time for which the muscles are active (as measured by EMG) in relation to the duration of the movement. In the present experiment, then, these variables were measured in addition to the time required to prepare and initiate a movement performed under conditions conducive to either preprogramming or online preparation. Specifically, the movements were either completed as fast as possible, or at a considerably slower, more controlled speed. Each of the dependent variables displayed evidence of preprogramming in the movements completed at the fast velocity, and on-line preparation in the slower paced movements. Thus, in the slow condition, subjects appeared to rely more heavily on on-line prepared adjustments to produce an accurate outcome. The convergence attained between the various dependent measures lends power to the conclusions regarding hypothesized modes of control within the different speeds of movement.

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Correspondence to I. M. Franks.

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van Donkelaar, P., Franks, I.M. The effects of changing movement velocity and complexity on response preparation: evidence from latency, kinematic, and EMG measures. Exp Brain Res 83, 618–632 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00229840

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Key words

  • Reaction time
  • Preprogramming
  • On-line control
  • Movement kinematics
  • EMG patterns
  • Human