Motor Planning

Neuroscientist. 2015 Aug;21(4):385-98. doi: 10.1177/1073858414541484. Epub 2014 Jun 30.


Motor planning colloquially refers to any process related to the preparation of a movement that occurs during the reaction time prior to movement onset. However, this broad definition encompasses processes that are not strictly motor-related, such as decision-making about the identity of task-relevant stimuli in the environment. Furthermore, the assumption that all motor-planning processes require processing time, and can therefore be studied behaviorally by measuring changes in the reaction time, needs to be reexamined. In this review, we take a critical look at the processes leading from perception to action and suggest a definition of motor planning that encompasses only those processes necessary for a movement to be executed-that is, processes that are strictly movement related. These processes resolve the ambiguity inherent in an abstract goal by defining a specific movement to achieve it. We propose that the majority of processes that meet this definition can be completed nearly instantaneously, which means that motor planning itself in fact consumes only a small fraction of the reaction time.

Keywords: attention; decision making; dynamical systems model; motor control; motor goal; optimal control theory; reaction time.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Movement*
  • Perception / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time*