Pointing errors reflect biases in the perception of the initial hand position

J Neurophysiol. 1998 Jun;79(6):3290-4. doi: 10.1152/jn.1998.79.6.3290.


By comparing the visuomotor performance of 10 adult, normal subjects in three tasks, we investigated whether errors in pointing movements reflect biased estimations of the hand starting position. In a manual pointing task with no visual feedback, subjects aimed at 48 targets spaced regularly around two starting positions. Nine subjects exhibited a similar pattern of systematic errors across targets, i.e., a parallel shift of the end points that accounted, on average, for 49% of the total variability. The direction of the shift depended on the starting location. Systematic errors decreased dramatically in the second condition where subjects were allowed to see their hand before movement onset. The third task was to use a joystick held by the left hand to estimate the location of their (unseen) right hand. The systematic perceptual errors in this condition were found to be highly correlated with the motor errors in the first condition. The results support the following conclusions. 1) Kinesthetic estimation of hand position may be consistently biased. Some of the mechanisms responsible for these biases are always active, irrespective of whether position is estimated overtly (e.g., with a matching paradigm), or covertly as part of the motor planning for aimed movements. 2) Pointing errors reflect to a significant extent the erroneous estimation of initial hand position. This suggests that aimed hand movements are planned vectorially, i.e., in terms of distance and direction, rather than in terms of absolute position in space.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Hand / innervation
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Kinesthesis / physiology
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*