The role of vision, speed, and attention in overcoming directional biases during arm movements

Natalia Dounskaia, Jacob A. Goble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Previous research has revealed directional biases (preferences to select movements in specific directions) during horizontal arm movements with the use of a free-stroke drawing task. The biases were interpreted as a result of a tendency to generate motion at either the shoulder or elbow (leading joint) and move the other (subordinate) joint predominantly passively to avoid neural effort for control of interaction torque. Here, we examined influence of vision, movement speed, and attention on the directional biases. Participants performed the free-stroke drawing task, producing center-out strokes in randomly selected directions. Movements were performed with and without vision and at comfortable and fast pace. A secondary, cognitive task was used to distract attention. Preferred directions remained the same in all conditions. Bias strength mildly increased without vision, especially during fast movements. Striking increases in bias strength were caused by the secondary task, pointing to additional cognitive load associated with selection of movements in the non-preferred directions. Further analyses demonstrated that the tendency to minimize active interference with interaction torque at the subordinate joint matched directional biases in all conditions. This match supports the explanation of directional biases as a result of a tendency to minimize neural effort for interaction torque control. The cognitive load may enhance this tendency in two ways, directly, by reducing neural capacity for interaction torque control, and indirectly, by decreasing capacity of working memory that stores visited directions. The obtained results suggest strong directional biases during daily activities because natural arm movements usually subserve cognitive tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-309
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Arm movements
  • Cognitive load
  • Interaction torque
  • Multi-joint
  • Optimal control
  • Secondary task
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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