New research may prove brain prepares multiple actions before acting

January 11, 2016 by Anne Craig
New research may prove brain prepares multiple actions before acting
Jason Gallivan (l) and Randy Flanagan discuss their latest research

The brain prepares multiple available movements before deciding between them, according to findings from Queen's researchers Jason Gallivan and Randy Flanagan.

The research helps explain how the brain initially represents and decides between competing action options.

"Although there is an increasing appreciation among neuroscientists and psychologists of how processes involved in planning and control shape decisions, what has been missing is convincing behavioural evidence that can ground interpretations of ," says Dr. Gallivan (Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Department of Psychology and Centre for Neuroscience Studies).

Reaching movements are supported by responses that compensate for errors that can arise during movement execution. For example, if, when reaching towards a target, we see that our hand is off course, a fast "visuomotor" reflex will generate motor commands that correct for the error.

An important component of reach planning involves specifying the strength or "'gain" of this reflex. For example, people will specify a higher gain when the target is narrow, in comparison to when it is wide, because a more vigorous correction would be required.

The researchers found that when participants were required to reach towards two potential targets—one wide and one narrow—that were superimposed, the gain of the visuomotor reflex constituted an average of the gains specified when reaching towards each target individually. This result indicates that participants planned a movement for each potential target, and executed these movements simultaneously when the target was uncertain.

"Preparing multiple plans may facilitate rapid movement initiation once one plan is selected, and may also provide a mechanism through which movement-related factors can influence the decision about which movement to make," says Dr. Flanagan (Department of Psychology and Centre for Neuroscience Studies). "Understanding how the brain initially represents and decides between competing action options in the environment is a fundamental question in the neurosciences of decision-making and motor control."

Co-authors on the project included Lindsey Logan (now an MD/MSc student at the University of Calgary) and Daniel Wolpert (University of Cambridge).

The research was published in Nature Neuroscience.

Explore further: Making waves with groundbreaking brain research

More information: Jason P Gallivan et al. Parallel specification of competing sensorimotor control policies for alternative action options, Nature Neuroscience (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nn.4214

Related Stories

Making waves with groundbreaking brain research

July 3, 2015
New research by Jason Gallivan and Randy Flanagan suggests that when deciding which of several possible actions to perform, the human brain plans multiple actions simultaneously prior to selecting one of them to execute.

Research advances understanding of the human brain

March 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Advanced neuroimaging techniques are giving researchers new insight into how the human brain plans and controls limb movements. This advance could one day lead to new understanding of disease and dysfunction ...

Do we have free will? Researchers test mechanisms involved in decision-making

January 4, 2016
Our choices seem to be freer than previously thought. Using computer-based brain experiments, researchers from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin studied the decision-making processes involved in voluntary movements. ...

How weight, mass, and gravity are represented in the brain

July 25, 2014
Humans have developed sophisticated concepts like mass and gravity to explain a wide range of everyday phenomena, but scientists have remarkably little understanding of how such concepts are represented by the brain.

New research paves the way to begin developing a computer you can control with your mind

October 21, 2015
A team of researchers led by Angelika Lingnau, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway has been able to predict participants' movements just by analysing their brain activity.

Research determines how the brain computes tool use

May 8, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—With a goal of helping patients with spinal cord injuries, Jason Gallivan and a team of researchers at Queen's University's Department of Psychology and Centre for Neuroscience Studies are probing deep ...

Recommended for you

Scientists block evolution's molecular nerve pruning in rodents

July 27, 2017
Researchers investigating why some people suffer from motor disabilities report they may have dialed back evolution's clock a few ticks by blocking molecular pruning of sophisticated brain-to-limb nerve connections in maturing ...

In witnessing the brain's 'aha!' moment, scientists shed light on biology of consciousness

July 27, 2017
Columbia scientists have identified the brain's 'aha!' moment—that flash in time when you suddenly become aware of information, such as knowing the answer to a difficult question. Today's findings in humans, combined with ...

Social influences can override aggression in male mice, study shows

July 27, 2017
Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have identified a cluster of nerve cells in the male mouse's brain that, when activated, triggers territorial rage in a variety of situations. Activating the same cluster ...

Scientists become research subjects in after-hours brain-scanning project

July 27, 2017
A quest to analyze the unique features of individual human brains evolved into the so-called Midnight Scan Club, a group of scientists who had big ideas but almost no funding and little time to research the trillions of neural ...

Researchers reveal unusual chemistry of protein with role in neurodegenerative disorders

July 27, 2017
A common feature of neurodegenerative diseases is the formation of permanent tangles of insoluble proteins in cells. The beta-amyloid plaques found in people with Alzheimer's disease and the inclusion bodies in motor neurons ...

Mother's brain reward response to offspring reduced by substance addiction

July 27, 2017
Maternal addiction and its effects on children is a major public health problem, often leading to high rates of child abuse, neglect and foster care placement. In a study published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.