The effect of attending to motor overflow on its voluntary inhibition in young and older adults

Brain Cogn. 2010 Dec;74(3):358-64. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2010.10.001. Epub 2010 Oct 27.


Motor overflow refers to involuntary movement or muscle activity coinciding with voluntary movement. We examined whether 16 young adults (18-30 years) and 16 older adults (50-80 years) could voluntarily inhibit overflow. Participants performed a finger pressing task, exerting 50% of their maximal force. Overflow was concurrently recorded in the non-task hand. In the first condition, participants were not made aware of their motor overflow. Then participants, though informed of it, were asked to ignore their overflow. Finally, participants were requested to inhibit overflow with, and then without visual feedback, or vice versa. Overflow was exacerbated when older adults were unaware of it, and was reduced once they were informed. For young adults there was no significant difference between these conditions. Both Age Groups could significantly reduce overflow when so requested, independent of visual feedback. Thus motor overflow can be modulated by higher order cognitive control with directed attention.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Fingers
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult