The influence of temporal predictability on express visuomotor responses

J Neurophysiol. 2021 Mar 1;125(3):731-747. doi: 10.1152/jn.00521.2020. Epub 2020 Dec 23.


Humans are able to generate target-directed visuomotor responses in less than 100 ms after stimulus onset. These "express" responses have been termed stimulus-locked responses (SLRs) and are proposed to be modulated by visuomotor transformations performed subcortically via the superior colliculus. Unfortunately, these responses have proven difficult to detect consistently across individuals. The recent report of an effective paradigm for generating SLRs in 100% of participants appears to change this. The task required the interception of a target moving at a constant velocity that emerged from behind a barrier. Here, we aimed to reproduce the efficacy of this paradigm for eliciting SLRs and to test the hypothesis that its effectiveness derives from the predictability of target onset time as opposed to target motion per se. In one experiment, we recorded surface electromyogram (EMG) from shoulder muscles as participants made reaches to intercept temporally predictable or unpredictable targets. Consistent with our hypothesis, predictably timed targets produced more frequent and stronger SLRs than unpredictably timed targets. In a second experiment, we compared different temporally predictable stimuli and observed that transiently presented targets produced larger and earlier SLRs than sustained moving targets. Our results suggest that target motion is not critical for facilitating the SLR expression and that timing predictability does not rely on extrapolation of a physically plausible motion trajectory. These findings provide support for a mechanism whereby an internal timer, probably located in cerebral cortex, primes the processing of both visual input and motor output within the superior colliculus to produce SLRs.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Express stimulus-driven responses in humans have been proposed to be originated subcortically via the superior colliculus. These short-latency responses are facilitated by the presentation of dynamic visual stimuli. Here, we show that this facilitation is related to the predictable target timing, regardless of its kinematic attributes. We propose that the superior colliculus can be primed to generate express stimulus-driven motor responses via cortical top-down projection.

Keywords: moving target; rapid visuomotor responses; stimulus-timing prediction; transient visual stimulus; visually guided reaching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult