Mere expectation to move causes attenuation of sensory signals

PLoS One. 2008 Aug 6;3(8):e2866. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002866.


When a part of the body moves, the sensation evoked by a probe stimulus to that body part is attenuated. Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain this robust and general effect. First, feedforward motor signals may modulate activity evoked by incoming sensory signals. Second, reafferent sensation from body movements may mask the stimulus. Here we delivered probe stimuli to the right index finger just before a cue which instructed subjects to make left or right index finger movements. When left and right cues were equiprobable, we found attenuation for stimuli to the right index finger just before this finger was cued (and subsequently moved). However, there was no attenuation in the right finger just before the left finger was cued. This result suggests that the movement made in response to the cue caused 'postdictive' attenuation of a sensation occurring prior to the cue. In a second experiment, the right cue was more frequent than the left. We now found attenuation in the right index finger even when the left finger was cued and moved. This attenuation linked to a movement that was likely but did not in fact occur, suggests a new expectation-based mechanism, distinct from both feedforward motor signals and postdiction. Our results suggest a new mechanism in motor-sensory interactions in which the motor system tunes the sensory inputs based on expectations about future possible actions that may not, in fact, be implemented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways
  • Cues
  • Efferent Pathways
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*