The effects of increasing memory load on the directional accuracy of pointing movements to remembered targets

Exp Brain Res. 2004 Aug;157(4):518-25. doi: 10.1007/s00221-004-1865-6. Epub 2004 Apr 27.


The directional accuracy of pointing arm movements to remembered targets in conditions of increasing memory load was investigated using a modified version of the Sternberg's context-recall memory-scanning task. Series of 2, 3 or 4 targets (chosen randomly from a set of 16 targets around a central starting point in 2D space) were presented sequentially, followed by a cue target randomly selected from the series excluding the last one. The subject had to move to the location of the next target in the series. Correct movements were those that ended closer to the instructed target than any other target in the series while all other movements were considered as serial order errors. Increasing memory load resulted in a large decrease in the directional accuracy or equivalently in the directional information transmitted by the motor system. The constant directional error varied with target direction in a systematic fashion reproducing previous results and suggesting the same systematic distortion of the representation of direction in different memory delay tasks. The constant directional error was not altered by increasing memory load, contradicting our hypothesis that it might reflect a cognitive strategy for better remembering spatial locations in conditions of increasing uncertainty. Increasing memory load resulted in a linear increase of mean response time and variable directional error and a non-linear increase in the percentage of serial order errors. Also the percentage of serial order errors for the last presented target in the series was smaller (recency effect). The difference between serial order and directional spatial accuracy is supported by neurophysiological and functional anatomical evidence of working memory subsystems in the prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology