Time-dependent effects of discrete spatial cues on the planning of directed movements

Experimental Brain Research - 2006-06-01Pellizzer G, Hedges J, Villanueva RR10.1007/s00221-005-0317-2
The degree of preparation of a motor response varies with the information available regarding the response that will need to be executed and with the time provided to process that information. In experiment 1 we investigated the time-course of processing the information specified by discrete spatial cues regarding the upcoming target of directed movements. For this purpose we varied the number of cues that indicated the possible locations of the target and the duration of the cue period preceding the target. The results showed that the effects of processing the information provided by the cues developed progressively and stabilized after 0.2 s. In addition, the level of motor preparation reached was a function of number of cues. However, the effect of number of cues occurred even in the no cue period condition, i.e. when subjects could not have benefited from the information provided by the cues to prepare the response. Further analyses suggested the hypothesis that, in the no cue period condition, the effect of number of cues resulted from the cues acting as distractors (i.e., interference) whereas, with longer cue periods, the effect resulted from the motor preparatory process (i.e., facilitation). This hypothesis was tested in experiment 2 where the number of cues and the number of distractors were varied inversely. Cues and distractors were the same type of stimuli and differed only in their relation to the time of presentation of the target. Subjects performed in a directed response task and in a control detection task. It was predicted that the facilitatory effect of the cues and the interference effect of the distractors on the planning of the directed response would oppose each other and produce a non-monotonic change of RT across conditions. The results conformed to the prediction and, therefore, supported the hypothesis of independent effects of facilitation and interference. In addition, we found that the pattern of RT across conditions in the detection task differed radically with that in the directed response task. This result indicates that the time-dependent effects of cues and distractors are contingent on the type of motor response required in the task, and, in particular on the spatial requirement on the motor response.