Movement preparation time determines movement variability

J Neurophysiol. 2021 Jun 1;125(6):2375-2383. doi: 10.1152/jn.00087.2020. Epub 2021 May 26.


Faster movements are typically more variable-a speed-accuracy trade-off known as Fitts' law. Are movements that are initiated faster also more variable? Neurophysiological work has associated larger neural variability during motor preparation with longer reaction time (RT) and larger movement variability, implying that movement variability decreases with increasing RT. Here, we recorded over 30,000 reaching movements in 11 human participants who moved to visually cued targets. Half of the visual cues were accompanied by a beep to evoke a wide RT range in each participant. Results show that initial reach variability decreases with increasing RT, for voluntarily produced RTs up to ∼300 ms, whereas other kinematic aspects and endpoint accuracy remained unaffected. We conclude that movement preparation time determines initial movement variability. We suggest that the chosen movement preparation time reflects a trade-off between movement initiation and precision.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Fitts' law describes the speed-accuracy trade-off in the execution of human movements. We examined whether there is also a trade-off between movement planning time and initial movement precision. We show that shorter reaction times result in higher initial movement variability. In other words, movement preparation time determines movement variability.

Keywords: movement preparation time; movement variability; planning noise; reaction time; speed-accuracy trade-off.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult