A motor planning stage represents the shape of upcoming movement trajectories

J Neurophysiol. 2016 Aug 1;116(2):296-305. doi: 10.1152/jn.01064.2015. Epub 2016 Apr 20.


Interactions with our environment require curved movements that depend not only on the final position of the hand but also on the path used to achieve it. Current studies in motor control, however, largely focus on point-to-point movements and do not consider how movements with specific desired trajectories might arise. In this study, we examined intentionally curved reaching movements that navigate paths around obstacles. We found that the preparation of these movements incurred a large reaction-time cost. This cost could not be attributed to nonmotor task requirements (e.g., stimulus perception) and was independent of the execution difficulty (i.e., extent of curvature) of the movement. Additionally, this trajectory representation cost was not observed for point-to-point reaches but could be optionally included if the task encouraged consideration of straight trajectories. Therefore, when the path of a movement is task relevant, the shape of the desired trajectory is overtly represented as a stage of motor planning. This trajectory representation ability may help explain the vast repertoire of human motor behaviors.

Keywords: complex action; desired trajectory; motor planning; optimal feedback control; reaction time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult