Reflexive limb selection and control of reach direction to moving targets in cats, monkeys, and humans

J Neurophysiol. 2010 Nov;104(5):2423-32. doi: 10.1152/jn.01133.2009. Epub 2010 Sep 1.


When we reach for an object, we have to decide which arm to use and the direction in which to move. According to the established view, this is voluntarily controlled and programmed in advance in time-consuming and elaborate computations. Here, we systematically tested the motor strategy used by cats, monkeys, and humans when catching an object moving at high velocity to the left or right. In all species, targets moving to the right selectively initiated movement of the right forelimb and vice versa for targets moving to the left. Movements were from the start directed toward a prospective target position. In humans, the earliest onset of electromyographic activity from start of motion of the target ranged from 90 to 110 ms in different subjects. This indicates that the selection of the arm and specification of movement direction did not result from the subject's voluntary decision, but were determined in a reflex-like manner by the parameters of the target motion. As a whole the data suggest that control of goal-directed arm movement relies largely on an innate neuronal network that, when activated by the visual signal from the target, automatically guides the arm throughout the entire movement toward the target. In the view of the present data, parametric programming of reaching in advance seems to be superfluous.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Arm / physiology
  • Cats
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Macaca
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology