Random motor generation in a finger tapping task: influence of spatial contingency and of cortical and subcortical hemispheric brain lesions

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1997 Nov;63(5):654-9. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.63.5.654.


Objective: To test the hypothesis that, during random motor generation, the spatial contingencies inherent to the task would induce additional preferences in normal subjects, shifting their performances farther from randomness. By contrast, perceptual or executive dysfunction could alter these task related biases in patients with brain damage.

Methods: Two groups of patients, with right and left focal brain lesions, as well as 25 right handed subjects matched for age and handedness were asked to execute a random choice motor task--namely, to generate a random series of 180 button presses from a set of 10 keys placed vertically in front of them.

Results: In the control group, as in the left brain lesion group, motor generation was subject to deviations from theoretical expected randomness, similar to those when numbers are generated mentally, as immediate repetitions (successive presses on the same key) are avoided. However, the distribution of button presses was also contingent on the topographic disposition of the keys: the central keys were chosen more often than those placed at extreme positions. Small distances were favoured, particularly with the left hand. These patterns were influenced by implicit strategies and task related contingencies. By contrast, right brain lesion patients with frontal involvement tended to show a more square distribution of key presses--that is, the number of key presses tended to be more equally distributed. The strategies were also altered by brain lesions: the number of immediate repetitions was more frequent when the lesion involved the right frontal areas yielding a random generation nearer to expected theoretical randomness. The frequency of adjacent key presses was increased by right anterior and left posterior cortical as well as by right subcortical lesions, but decreased by left subcortical lesions.

Conclusions: Depending on the side of the lesion and the degree of cortical-subcortical involvement, the deficits take on a different aspect and direct repetions and adjacent key presses have different patterns of alterations. Motor random generation is therefore a complex task which seems to necessitate the participation of numerous cerebral structures, among which those situated in the right frontal, left posterior, and subcortical regions have a predominant role.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aphasia / etiology
  • Brain Diseases / complications
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Hemianopsia / etiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*