Random walk of motor planning in task-irrelevant dimensions

J Neurophysiol. 2013 Feb;109(4):969-77. doi: 10.1152/jn.00706.2012. Epub 2012 Nov 21.


The movements that we make are variable. It is well established that at least a part of this variability is caused by noise in central motor planning. Here, we studied how the random effects of planning noise translate into changes in motor planning. Are the random effects independently added to a constant mean end point, or do they accumulate over movements? To distinguish between these possibilities, we examined repeated, discrete movements in various tasks in which the motor output could be decomposed into a task-relevant and a task-irrelevant component. We found in all tasks that the task-irrelevant component had a positive lag 1 autocorrelation, suggesting that the random effects of planning noise accumulate over movements. In contrast, the task-relevant component always had a lag 1 autocorrelation close to zero, which can be explained by effective trial-by-trial correction of motor planning on the basis of observed motor errors. Accumulation of the effects of planning noise is consistent with current insights into the stochastic nature of synaptic plasticity. It leads to motor exploration, which may subserve motor learning and performance optimization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Walking / physiology*