Interacting noise sources shape patterns of arm movement variability in three-dimensional space.

Research paper by Gregory A GA Apker, Timothy K TK Darling, Christopher A CA Buneo

Indexed on: 17 Sep '10Published on: 17 Sep '10Published in: Journal of neurophysiology


Reaching movements are subject to noise in both the planning and execution phases of movement production. The interaction of these noise sources during natural movements is not well understood, despite its importance for understanding movement variability in neurologically intact and impaired individuals. Here we examined the interaction of planning and execution related noise during the production of unconstrained reaching movements. Subjects performed sequences of two movements to targets arranged in three vertical planes separated in depth. The starting position for each sequence was also varied in depth with the target plane; thus required movement sequences were largely contained within the vertical plane of the targets. Each final target in a sequence was approached from two different directions, and these movements were made with or without visual feedback of the moving hand. These combined aspects of the design allowed us to probe the interaction of execution and planning related noise with respect to reach endpoint variability. In agreement with previous studies, we found that reach endpoint distributions were highly anisotropic. The principal axes of movement variability were largely aligned with the depth axis, i.e., the axis along which visual planning related noise would be expected to dominate, and were not generally well aligned with the direction of the movement vector. Our results suggest that visual planning-related noise plays a dominant role in determining anisotropic patterns of endpoint variability in three-dimensional space, with execution noise adding to this variability in a movement direction-dependent manner.