Context influences on the preparation and execution of reaching movements

Giovanni Mirabella, Pierpaolo Pani, Stefano Ferraina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability of rapidly adapting our motor behaviour in order to face the unpredictable changes in the surrounding environment is fundamental for survival. To achieve such a high level of efficiency our motor system has to assess continuously the context in which it acts, gathering all available information that can be relevant for planning goal-oriented movements. One still-debated aspect of movement organization is the nature and timing of motor planning. While motor plans are often taken to be concerned with the setting of kinematic parameters as a function of perceptual and motor factors, it has been suggested that higher level, cognitive factors may also affect planning. To explore this issue further, we asked 18 right-handed human participants to perform speeded hand-reaching movement toward a visual target in two different experimental settings, a reaction time (RT) paradigm (go-only task) and a countermanding paradigm. In both tasks participants executed the same movements, but in the countermanding task no-stop trials were randomly intermixed with stop trials. In stop trials participants were required to withhold the ongoing movement whenever a stop signal was shown. It is known that the presence of stop trials induces a consistent increase of the RTs of no-stop trials with respect to the RTs of go-only trials. However, nothing is known about a similar effect for movement times (MTs). We found that RTs and MTs exhibit opposing tendencies, so that a decrease in the RT correspond to an increase in the MT and vice versa. This tendency was present in all our participants and significant in 90% of them. Furthermore we found a moderate, but again very consistent, anticorrelation between RTs and MTs on a trial-by-trial base. These findings are consistent with strategic changes in movement programmes for the very same movements under different cognitive contexts, requiring different degrees of feedback-driven control during movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)996-1010
Number of pages15
JournalCognitive Neuropsychology
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Countermanding
  • Human
  • Motor programme
  • Movement time
  • Reaction time
  • Stop-task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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