Motor planning: effect of directional uncertainty with discrete spatial cues

Experimental Brain Research - 2003-06-01Pellizzer G10.1007/s00221-003-1453-1
We investigated the effect of spatial uncertainty on motor planning by using the cueing method in a reaching task (experiment 1). Discrete spatial cues indicated the different locations in which the target could be presented. The number of cues as well as their direction changed from trial to trial. We tested the adequacy of two models of motor planning to account for the data. The switching model assumes that only one motor response can be planned at a time, whereas the capacity-sharing model assumes that multiple motor responses can be planned in parallel. Both models predict the same relation between average reaction time (RT) and number of cues, but they differ in their prediction of the shape of the distribution of the reaction time. The results showed that RT increased with the number of cues independently from their spatial dispersion. This relation was well described by the function predicted by both models, whereas it was poorly described by the Hick-Hyman law. In addition, the distribution of RT conformed to the prediction of the capacity-sharing model and not to that of the switching model. We investigated the role that the requirement of a spatially directed motor response might have had on this pattern of results by testing subjects in a simple RT task (experiment 2) with the same cueing presentation as in experiment 1. The results contrasted with those in experiment 1 and showed that RT was dependent on the spatial dispersion of the cues and not on their number. The results of the two experiments suggest that the mode of processing of potential targets is dependent on the spatial constraints of the task. The processing resources can be either divided relative to the spatial distribution of possible targets or across multiple independent discrete representations of these targets.