A motor plan is accessible for voluntary initiation and involuntary triggering at similar short latencies

Rosalind L. Heckman*, Daniel Ludvig, Eric J. Perreault

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Movement goals are an essential component of motor planning, altering voluntary and involuntary motor actions. While there have been many studies of motor planning, it is unclear if motor goals influence voluntary and involuntary movements at similar latencies. The objectives of this study were to determine how long it takes to prepare a motor action and to compare this time for voluntary and involuntary movements. We hypothesized a prepared motor action would influence voluntarily and involuntarily initiated movements at the same latency. We trained subjects to reach with a forced reaction time paradigm and used a startling acoustic stimulus (SAS) to trigger involuntary initiation of the same reaches. The time available to prepare was controlled by varying when one of four reach targets was presented. Reach direction was used to evaluate accuracy. We quantified the time between target presentation and the cue or trigger for movement initiation. We found that reaches were accurately initiated when the target was presented 48 ms before the SAS and 162 ms before the cue to voluntarily initiate movement. While the SAS precisely controlled the latency of movement onset, voluntary reach onset was more variable. We, therefore, quantified the time between target presentation and movement onset and found no significant difference in the time required to plan reaches initiated voluntarily or involuntarily (∆ = 8 ms, p = 0.2). These results demonstrate that the time required to plan accurate reaches is similar regardless of if they are initiated voluntarily or triggered involuntarily. This finding may inform the understanding of neural pathways governing storage and access of motor plans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalExperimental Brain Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Involuntary response
  • Movement initiation
  • Movement preparation
  • Startling acoustic stimulus
  • Timed response
  • Voluntary movement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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