Discrete and cyclical units of action in a mixed target pair aiming task. Academic Article uri icon


  • Two experiments addressed the issue of discrete and cyclical units as possible basic units of action that might be used to construct complex actions based on task constraints. The experiments examined the influence of low and high accuracy constraints on the end-effector's motion in rhythmical aiming movements. Both experiments utilized a Fitts-type task under three accuracy constraints: (1) big target pairing-low index of movement difficulty (ID), (2) small target pairing-high ID, and (3) mixed target pairing-one target high ID and the other target low ID. Experiment I was a 1-degree-of-freedom ( df) task that required subjects to crossover the inside edge of targets in a target pair using elbow flexion-extension motions. Experiment II used a 2- df task that required subjects to tap back and forth between targets in a target pair using a hand-held stylus. In both experiments, end-effector motion in the low ID condition was cyclical with the end-effector's motion consistent with a limit-cycle attractor description, while in the high ID condition end-effector motion was discrete and consistent with a fixed-point attractor description. The mixed target pairing produced both discrete and cyclical features in the end-effector's dynamics that suggested a functional linking of discrete and cyclical units of action as the optimal movement solution. Evidence supporting the above statements was found in the kinematic measures of movement time (MT), dwell time, proportion of MT accelerating and decelerating, and in a measure of harmonicity (Guiard 1993, Acta Psychol 82:139-159; Guiard 1997, Hum Mov Sci 16:97-131). Extended practice in the mixed target condition revealed a bias towards cyclical motion with practice. The results demonstrate that discrete and cyclical motion, represented as limit-cycle and fixed-point attractors, are basic units of action that the motor system uses in constructing more complex action sequences. The results are discussed with reference to coordinative structures and the generalized motor program as basic units of action. Issues pertaining to visual feedback processing and movement braking in rapid aiming tasks are also discussed.

published proceedings

  • Exp Brain Res

author list (cited authors)

  • Buchanan, J. J., Park, J., Ryu, Y. U., & Shea, C. H.

citation count

  • 59

complete list of authors

  • Buchanan, John J||Park, Jin-H||Ryu, Young U||Shea, Charles H

publication date

  • June 2003