Although beta-band activity during motor planning is known to be modulated by uncertainty about where to act, less is known about its modulations to uncertainty about how to act. To investigate this issue, we recorded oscillatory brain activity with EEG while human participants (n = 17) performed a hand choice reaching task. The reaching hand was either predetermined or of participants' choice, and the target was close to one of the two hands or at about equal distance from both. To measure neural activity in a motion artifact-free time window, the location of the upcoming target was cued 1,000-1,500 ms before the presentation of the target, whereby the cue was valid in 50% of trials. As evidence for motor planning during the cuing phase, behavioral observations showed that the cue affected later hand choice. Furthermore, reaction times were longer in the choice trials than in the predetermined trials, supporting the notion of a competitive process for hand selection. Modulations of beta-band power over central cortical regions, but not alpha-band or theta-band power, were in line with these observations. During the cuing period, reaches in predetermined trials were preceded by larger decreases in beta-band power than reaches in choice trials. Cue direction did not affect reaction times or beta-band power, which may be due to the cue being invalid in 50% of trials, retaining effector uncertainty during motor planning. Our findings suggest that effector uncertainty modulates beta-band power during motor planning.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Although reach-related beta-band power in central cortical areas is known to modulate with the number of potential targets, here we show, using a cuing paradigm, that the power in this frequency band, but not in the alpha or theta band, is also modulated by the uncertainty of which hand to use. This finding supports the notion that multiple possible effector-specific actions can be specified in parallel up to the level of motor preparation.
Keywords: EEG; action selection; beta band; hand choice; motor planning.