Attention and the readiness for action.

Research paper by Katharine S KS Baker, Jason B JB Mattingley, Christopher D CD Chambers, Ross R Cunnington

Indexed on: 23 Aug '11Published on: 23 Aug '11Published in: Neuropsychologia


The initiation of voluntary action is preceded by up to 2s of preparatory neural activity, originating in premotor and supplementary motor regions of the brain. The function of this extended period of pre-movement activity is unclear. Although recent studies have suggested that pre-movement activity is influenced by attention to action, little is understood about the specific processes that are involved in this preparatory period prior to voluntary action. We recorded readiness potentials averaged from EEG activity as participants made voluntary self-paced finger movements. We manipulated the processing resources available for action preparation using concurrent perceptual load and cognitive working memory load tasks. Results showed that pre-movement activity was significantly reduced only under conditions of high working memory load, when resources for planning action were limited by the concurrent cognitive load task. In contrast, limiting attentional resources in the perceptual load task had no effect on pre-movement readiness activity. This suggests that movement preparatory processes involve mechanisms of cognitive control that are also required for working memory, and not more general engagement of selective attentional resources. We propose that the extended period of pre-movement neural activity preceding voluntary action reflects the engagement of cognitive control mechanisms for endogenously orienting attention in time, in readiness for the initiation of voluntary action.