Executive control and working memory are involved in sub-second repetitive motor timing

Exp Brain Res. 2017 Mar;235(3):787-798. doi: 10.1007/s00221-016-4839-6. Epub 2016 Nov 24.


The nature of the relationship between timing and cognition remains poorly understood. Cognitive control is known to be involved in discrete timing tasks involving durations above 1 s, but has not yet been demonstrated for repetitive motor timing below 1 s. We examined the latter in two continuation tapping experiments, by varying the cognitive load in a concurrent task. In Experiment 1, participants repeated a fixed three finger sequence (low executive load) or a pseudorandom sequence (high load) with either 524-, 733-, 1024- or 1431-ms inter-onset intervals (IOIs). High load increased timing variability for 524 and 733-ms IOIs but not for the longer IOIs. Experiment 2 attempted to replicate this finding for a concurrent memory task. Participants retained three letters (low working memory load) or seven letters (high load) while producing intervals (524- and 733-ms IOIs) with a drum stick. High load increased timing variability for both IOIs. Taken together, the experiments demonstrate that cognitive control processes influence sub-second repetitive motor timing.

Keywords: Continuation tapping; Dual task; Executive functions; Isochronous interval production; Random action generation; Timing; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology
  • Vocabulary
  • Young Adult