Influence of the behavioral goal and environmental obstacles on rapid feedback responses

J Neurophysiol. 2012 Aug;108(4):999-1009. doi: 10.1152/jn.01089.2011. Epub 2012 May 23.


The motor system must consider a variety of environmental factors when executing voluntary motor actions, such as the shape of the goal or the possible presence of intervening obstacles. It remains unknown whether rapid feedback responses to mechanical perturbations also consider these factors. Our first experiment quantified how feedback corrections were altered by target shape, which was either a circular dot or a bar. Unperturbed movements to each target were qualitatively similar on average but with greater dispersion of end point positions when reaching to the bar. On random trials, multijoint torque perturbations deviated the hand left or right. When reaching to a circular target, perturbations elicited corrective movements that were directed straight to the location of the target. In contrast, corrective movements when reaching to a bar were redirected to other locations along the bar axis. Our second experiment quantified whether the presence of obstacles could interfere with feedback corrections. We found that hand trajectories after the perturbations were altered to avoid obstacles in the environment. Importantly, changes in muscle activity reflecting the different target shapes (bar vs. dot) or the presence of obstacles were observed in as little as 70 ms. Such changes in motor responses were qualitatively consistent with simulations based on optimal feedback control. Taken together, these results highlight that long-latency motor responses consider spatial properties of the goal and environment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / methods
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / physiology*
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Young Adult