Recent theories of voluntary control predict that multiple motor strategies can be precomputed and expressed throughout movement. We examined online decisional processing in humans by asking them to make reaching movements with obstacles located just to the sides of a direct path between start and end targets. On random trials, the limb was perturbed with one of four mechanical loads that varied in direction and amplitude. Notably, we observed two different strategies when we applied a perturbation (left medium-sized) that deviated the participants' hand directly toward an obstacle. In some trials, subjects directed their hand between the obstacles and in other trials to the left of the obstacles. Importantly, changes in the muscle stretch response between these two strategies were observed in <60 ms after perturbation, during the R2 long-latency epoch (~45-75 ms). As predicted, the selected strategy depended on the estimated position of the limb when it was perturbed. In our second experiment, we presented either one or three potential goal targets. Movements initially directed to the closest target could be quickly redirected to other potential targets after a perturbation. Differences in muscle stretch responses for redirected movements were observed ~75 ms after perturbation during the R3 long-latency epoch (~75-105 ms). The results show that decisional processes are rapidly implemented during movement execution. In addition, our data suggest a hierarchical process with corrective responses on "how" to attain a behavioral goal expressed during the R2 epoch and responses on "what" goal to attain during the R3 epoch.
Keywords: decision-making; feedback; optimal feedback control; reaching.